By Luther Turmelle | August 3rd, 2011
By spotlighting the unjustified arrest of a cameraman by the Suffolk County Police Department, The Press Club of Long Island was able to convince the law enforcement agency to admit its mistake this week.
The department determined Monday afternoon that news cameraman Phil Datz was improperly arrested for filming the aftermath of a police chase on Friday. Police Commissioner Richard Dormer urged the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office should dismiss all charges against Datz.
PCLI, the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest journalism organization, had called earlier Monday for the Department to drop all charges against the freelance video journalist. PCLI had also demanded that the department investigate the sergeant involved for what video taken at the scene indicates is a clear case of police abuse of authority and infringement of the journalist’s First Amendment rights.
The video shows Datz, who was working for Stringer News Service at the time and had been charged with misdemeanor obstruction of governmental administration, was filming across the street on public property. He had not crossed a police line and was in no way interfering with officers.
When confronted by the Fifth Precinct sergeant, he politely asked where he could film and suggested contacting the Public Information Office but was only threatened. After he moved further away, he was then arrested without cause.
Meanwhile, pedestrians and motorists freely moved around the scene without interference by police.
Dormer said, “The department is conducting an internal review of the incident between a Suffolk County Police Department supervisor and a photographer that resulted in the photographer’s arrest. I am working with the Suffolk County District Attorney to have the arrest nullified.
“The police department believes in keeping an open line of communication with the media and we will be reviewing the department’s policy concerning involvement with the news media. The department will also provide refresher training to all officers regarding the interaction between the news media and department personnel.