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New York Photojournalist Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Following Arrest

The NPPA and the New York Civil Liberties Union, along with New York law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of photojournalist Phil Datz, who was arrested last July as he was attempting to film the conclusion of a police chase on Long Island.

Datz was on a public street when he was arrested.

“Mr. Datz’s arrest was not an isolated event,” said Robert Balin, a partner with Davis Wright Tremaine and lead counsel on the case. “Suffolk County police officers have a pattern of unlawfully interfering with the recording of police activity conducted in plain view. As a journalist, Mr. Datz has a responsibility to cover police activity in public places.”

Here’s video of the arrest…

“The video makes clear that Sergeant Milton acted in an angry and aggressive manner, with disregard for my constitutional rights,” Datz said in a statement. “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.”

The Suffolk County Police Commissioner eventually nullified Datz’s arrest and ordered his department to take media relations training.

The commissioner’s response to the incident was apparently not enough for Datz, who, through the lawsuit, is seeking an injunction “ordering Suffolk County to develop and implement a comprehensive and effective policy to protect the First Amendment rights of the public and press to observe and record police activity in public.”

Datz is also seeking compensatory damages for the “physical, psychological, and professional” harm caused by the incident. Plus lawyers’ fees.

At the time of his arrest, Datz was working for Stringer News Service, a Long Island-based news agency that provides breaking news footage for New York stations.

Here’s Datz’s full complaint…

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