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RTDNA Urges Milwaukee Police Department to Drop Charges Against WITI Photojournalist

The RTDNA has sent a letter to the Milwaukee Police Department to express “profound dismay at the treatment and arrest of Clinton Fillinger, a veteran photojournalist working for Milwaukee television station Fox6Now, by two of your sergeants on September 19.”

Fillinger, a photojournalist at WITI, was arrested Sunday night at the scene of a house fire in Milwaukee. He was shooting video behind police tape when an officer requested he turn off the camera; Fillinger refused, resulting in a confrontation between the two (watch it here).

“Mr. Fillinger was doing nothing more than his job, on a public street, behind police and fire lines, within his rights and within reason,” RTDNA region 4&5 director Peggy Phillip wrote. “We respectfully request that all charges against Mr. Fillinger immediately be dropped, and that you conduct an investigation of the incident and bring disciplinary action against the officers involved if necessary.”

Text of the full letter is below:

Chief Edward A. Flynn
Milwaukee Police Department
951 North Hanes Lovell Street
Milwaukee, WI 53233

Dear Chief Flynn,

I write on behalf of the Radio Television Digital News Association (“RTDNA”), the world’s largest professional organization exclusively serving electronic journalists, to profess our profound dismay at the treatment and arrest of Clinton Fillinger, a veteran photojournalist working for Milwaukee television station Fox6Now, by two of your sergeants on September 19.

According to press reports, Mr. Fillinger was attempting to film a news story on a public street from behind police lines.  Despite the fact that the general public was allowed access to the scene, your officers asked Mr. Fillinger alone to move away.  When Mr. Fillinger attempted to assert his right to remain, he was knocked to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested.

As the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit underscored in the past month, “gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest.”  Mr. Fillinger was doing nothing more than his job, on a public street, behind police and fire lines, within his rights and within reason.  We respectfully request that all charges against Mr. Fillinger immediately be dropped, and that you conduct an investigation of the incident and bring disciplinary action against the officers involved if necessary.

RTDNA encourages your department to maintain an open line of communication with media outlets.  We would be glad to provide assistance in educating your officers about proper media practices and First Amendment rights so that similar situations can be avoided.

Peggy Phillip, Region 4 & 5 RTDNA Director

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