Mannie Garcia, a Washington, D.C., photojournalist, was arrested in 2011 in Montgomery County, Maryland, for capturing photos and videos of two men being arrested by police. After a court fight of several year, he has been awarded $45,000 in a settlement with Maryland police, who arrested him.
National Press Photographers Association General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher said the organization has been very involved in seeking justice and advocating for Garcia’s rights.
Osterreicher said, “It is unfortunate that another law enforcement agency had to learn the hard way to respect the Constitution at taxpayers’ expense. Aside from the cost of the settlement, taxpayers may also be expected to pay Mr. Garcia’s attorneys’ fees which could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
During this case, Garcia alleged that the arresting officer put Garcia in a chokehold before dragging him across the street to the police cruiser. Garcia also alleged that the police officer hit his head during the arrest.
MSU broadcast journalism instructor Robert Gould said “We are allowed in the First Amendment to be able to shoot and record police activity anywhere as long as it’s on a public property,” said Gould. “A lot of the cases are because of the ignorance from the police department. They just don’t know the rules. They don’t understand the Constitution. Sometimes it’s a small town. Sometimes it’s a large town. Sometimes it’s the police that know the rules but they are trying to muscle their authority. And when they do that, they will find themselves getting in trouble.”
Michigan Press Association Public Affairs Manager Lisa McGraw said it’s important for the news media to hold government accountable. “When you are a public servant, whether an elected official or a civil servant, you are working for the taxpayer,” McGraw said.
Osterreicher pointed out different ways of protecting photojournalists’ rights. To the extent possible, they should meet with local law enforcement officers and agencies early to discuss rights and limits well before confrontations occur. When they are in high-conflict situations, it is up to each individual as to how far they wish to push the issue.
“Journalists should try working in pairs to watch each other’s backs and to record incidents should the other have a problem,” said Osterreicher. “Even if shooting stills, remember to record audio and video of these situations because it may come down to your word against that of the police officer and a recording may be used as evidence as to what actually was said and done.”
Since 9/11, there has been a heightened awareness of anyone taking photos or recording videos at public events. In recent years, many journalists have been arrested. Osterreicher said one factor attributed with the increase in these incidents is national security that have led police agencies have characterized photography as a “suspicious activity.”
“Law enforcement agencies should draft and adopt proper guidelines and policies addressing these issues,” said Osterreicher. “Once implemented, they must be reinforced through proper and ongoing training, and where appropriate, through disciplinary action against those officers who violate departmental rules.”
“I think the government needs to embrace the freedom of press,” said Gould. “Understand that we have a job to do, just like they do. Our job is to question the authority and hold the powerful accountable.”