The third time's a scraped arm (and face and legs) for New York Times photographer Robert Stolarik. This time, the oft-abused photographer was capturing images of the NYPD arresting a teenage girl after a street fight in the Concourse neighborhood. A police officer asked him to cease his photography. Stolarik showed his press credentials and continued.
What happened next his debated between the photographer and the NYPD. Stolarik claims that an officer approached him and slammed his camera into his face. He then requested the officers' badge numbers. They responded by slamming him to the ground and arresting him. He suffered bruises and scrapes to his face, arms and legs. Another photographer videotaped Stolarik being held down by six police officers.
On the other hand, the NYPD blames Stolarik. They say that one of their officers requested that the crowd, including the photographer, back away. Stolarik pushed forward and "inadvertently" struck an officer in the face with his camera. He then violently resisted arrest, leaving one officer with a cut on his hand.
Stolarik's December interaction can be found at about the 2:00 mark.
To be fair, Stolarik, at least in the December video, seems like he was being at least a bit of a pain in the butt to the officers that were trying to deal with the Occupiers. Nonetheless, being a pain in the butt doesn't necessarily equal legal justification for an arrest.
It's actually quite curious that the Times and Stolarik individually have not yet filed a lawsuit in response to the multiple arrests. Perhaps, politics plays a role. If the Times escalates the issue to litigation, the NYPD is going to be a lot less cooperative to their reporters and photographers. However, talking through the problem with the NYPD had led to two more arrests, both possibly without any legal merit.
At a certain point, you have to consider the courtroom route.
If one sues for false arrest and wins, they can recover actual damages, such as lost wages and possibly legal fees. If the plaintiff proves ill will and malice (knowledge that the arrest is without merit), punitive damages can be awarded in addition to the actual damages. There are also possible claims for battery, false imprisonment, infringing on free speech rights and the infringing on the freedom of the press.
The real benefit, however, is the underlying message to the NYPD. Even if only minimal damages are awarded, the show of legal force might make the officers, and their supervisors, think twice before engaging in such conduct again.
- Discuss Police Brutality With a New York Personal Injury Attorney (FindLaw)
- New York Times complains to police over treatment of photographer (The Guardian)
- Expletive the Police! Man Flips the Bird, Gets Arrested, Sues (FindLaw's New York Personal Injury Law Blog)
- Occupy Wall Street Protestor's 1st Amendment Rights (FindLaw's Blotter)