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News photographers file civil rights lawsuit against New York City police department

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 5, 2021

Contact:  Mickey H. Osterreicher
716.983.7800 lawyer@nppa.org

Federal lawsuit challenges NYPD’s practice of obstructing and retaliating against visual journalists and other media

Aug. 5 2021 – In response to the beatings, arrests, and harassment they experienced while covering last summer’s racial justice protests, five news photographers today filed a federal lawsuit seeking to hold the New York City Police Department accountable for its violation of their First Amendment rights.

The suit is being led by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), in partnership with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, widely recognized as the country’s leading law firm for First Amendment litigation. Four of the five visual journalists are NPPA members.

“The right of journalists to record the activities of police officers engaged in their official duties in public places is fundamental,” said attorney Robert D. Balin of Davis Wright Tremaine. “Yet the NYPD has demonstrated a longstanding custom, pattern, and practice of unlawfully interfering with this First Amendment right and that pattern was revealed with dreadful clarity during the George Floyd protests.”

“Each of these professional photojournalists was in the process of lawfully, peacefully gathering news by photographing police activity from a public street or sidewalk, when he or she was targeted by one or more NYPD officers,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel to the NPPA. “This outrageous interference in their constitutionally protected activities is a threat to the most basic freedoms of a democratic society and to the public’s right to know. It must not go unanswered.”

Plaintiffs in the case have published their work in leading global news outlets, including The New York Times, The Times of London, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Paris Match, Le Monde, CNN, The BBC, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, and more.

In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, plaintiffs’ suit seeks an injunction directing the City to: 

  • End its practice of interfering with, arresting and using physical force against photographers
  • Effectively train its officers on the press and public’s right to record police activity in public locations, and
  • Appropriately discipline those officers who violate this constitutional right.

“There has been a longstanding failure on the part of the City to train, supervise, and discipline police who interfere with the media trying to do their jobs,” said Osterreicher. “With this action, we’re asking the court to finally call NYPD to account for its unlawful practices.”

Plaintiffs in the case are:

  • Amr Alfiky, NPPA member, and a photography resident at National Geographic and former photography fellow at the New York Times, who was arrested while capturing police activity on the Lower East Side and, in a second incident, violently attacked by an officer while covering protests in Brooklyn.
  • Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi, NPPA member and a renowned documentary and news photographer, who was assaulted by a baton-wielding officer while photographing a group of officers beating a young man in Lower Manhattan.
  • Mel D. Cole, a widely published visual journalist and music photographer, who was documenting police-protester clashes from the Brooklyn Bridge footpath when he was arrested, stripped of his cameras, and held for seven hours.
  • Jae Donnelly, NPPA member and a well-known photographer and regular contributor to The Daily Mail, who was assaulted by a baton-wielding officer while photographing protestors in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.
  • Adam Gray, NPPA member and the chief photographer for the British press agency South West News Service, and BPPA (British Press Photographers’ Association) Press Photographer of the Year 2020, who was assaulted—without warning—, arrested, and detained while covering protests in and around Union Square.

“None of these professionals interfered with police activity in any way,” said Balin. “They identified themselves as members of the media and were fully within their rights to record the activities taking place. We are proud to be representing them pro bono in this litigation and look forward to seeing their rights affirmed by the court and, even more importantly, respected on the streets.” The journalists are represented by Davis Wright Tremaine attorneys Robert D. Balin, Alison Schary, Nimra H. Azmi, Abigail Everdell, and Kathleen Farley,  as well as NPPA’s attorneys Mickey H. Osterreicher and Alicia Calzada.

About the National Press Photographers Association
NPPA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of visual journalism in its creation, editing, and distribution. NPPA’s members include video and still photographers, editors, students, and representatives of businesses that serve the visual journalism community. Since its founding in 1946, the NPPA has been the Voice of Visual Journalists, vigorously promoting the constitutional and intellectual property rights of journalists as well as freedom of the press in all its forms, especially as it relates to visual journalism.

About Davis Wright Tremaine
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP is an AmLaw 100 law firm with 
more than 600 lawyers. The firm is regularly recognized as the country’s leader in First Amendment litigation and has been named Media & Entertainment Practice Group of the Year by Law360 for five years straight.

Source: NPPA