Last July, professional video journalist Philip Datz was standing on a public street in Long Island, New York with some fellow bystanders watching the aftermath of a police chase. When Sergeant Michael Milton of the Suffolk County Police Department caught sight of Datz recording the ordeal, he wasted no time in rushing over to the news videographer and nastily demanded him to stop recording and leave the scene immediately.
When Datz left the scene, at Milton’s request no less, and traveled a block away to record the rest of the happenings, Milton sped up aside him in his patrol car, proceeded to get out, seemingly threw the video journalist’s camera to the ground, and arrested him. When taken into custody, Datz was charged with the misdemeanor of obstruction of governmental action.
Upon his release, and as any other right-minded, ill-treated individual would do, Datz made it a quick point to upload the entire fiasco on YouTube, which can be viewed above.
Although the charges against the NPPA member were dropped last August, it certainly doesn’t take away from the fact that Datz’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments were all unlawfully violated. Last week, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of Datz and the National Press Photographers Association to dispute Suffolk County’s illicit practice of obstructing the right to press and record the news, especially when it concerns police activity in communal areas.
The lawsuit alleges false arrest, assault and battery, and Datz’s violation of civil rights among insufficient training, supervision, and discipline of officers who impede the rightful action of recording police movement in public locations. In addition to the aforementioned illegalities, the suit also claims a violation of the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, relating to the illegal seizure of Datz’s camera and recordings.
Concerning the lawsuit, Datz revealed:
The video makes clear that Sergeant Milton acted in an angry and aggressive manner, with disregard for my constitutional rights. When police arrest journalists just for doing their job, it creates a chilling effect that jeopardizes the public’s ability to stay informed about important news and events in their community.
To rectify his own situation, and prevent the same from happening to other video journalists after him, Datz is seeking an injunction that calls for Suffolk County to establish and employ an all-inclusive policy that protects the First Amendment rights of the public and press to watch and record police activity in public.
As he should, Datz is also seeking compensatory damages for the physical, psychological, and professional damages that he suffered as a result of his illegitimate arrest.
Check back for updates as the lawsuit progresses…