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Freelance Photojournalist Settles Suit Against Suffolk County

A freelance photojournalist has settled his civil rights lawsuit against Suffolk County Police Department.

Phil Datz, a freelance photojournalist, was arrested after being told by an officer to stop shooting the arrest of a suspect. Datz was shooting the arrest from a public sidewalk at the time. Watch Datz’s video of his arrest above.

“This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment and for the public good,” Datz said in a statement “When police arrest journalists just for doing their job, it creates a chilling effect that jeopardizes everyone’s ability to stay informed about important news in their community.”

According to the NPPA, Suffolk County will pay Datz $200,000, “implement a new training program [including a training video], and create a Police-Media Relations Committee.”

The NPPA, attorneys from the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine (DWT), and the New York Civil Liberties Union worked with Datz, a freelance videographer, to file a federal lawsuit after Suffolk County prosecutors dropped charges resulting from his 2011 arrest.

In July of 2011 Datz was filming police activity from a public sidewalk when Suffolk County Police Sergeant Michael Milton confronted him, demanding he leave the area immediately. Datz was wearing his press credentials at the time and was standing near several other onlookers, who were not asked to leave. Although no police lines had been established, Datz complied and then drove a block away. He was filming from there when Sergeant Milton came speeding up in his police cruiser, placed Datz under arrest for obstruction of governmental administration, and seized his camera and videotape.

Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA said in a statement, “The real challenge now will be to ensure the ongoing training of SCPD officers in order for Suffolk County to be a positive role model for other law enforcement agencies.”

Datz’s arrest was eventually nullified by the Suffolk County Police Commissioner who also ordered his department to take media relations training.

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