A Temple University photojournalism student has been charged with obstruction of justice, resisting arrest and disorderly contact. All for taking a photo of a police officer for a course assignment.
A journalism advocacy group said on Monday that the Philadelphia police had violated a college student's First Amendment rights by arresting him as he took photos of a traffic stop outside his house. "He was just taking pictures, as is his right, (as is) every citizen's right," said attorney Mickey Osterreicher.
Ian Van Kuyk is a photojournalism student at the Temple University.
Van Kuyk was sitting on the stairs to his house when he saw a police officer pull a vehicle to a stop on the street. His course had tasked him with a night-photography assignment. Van Kuyk took the opportunity to grab his camera and started shooting photos.
A police officer saw that Van Kuyk was taking photos and demanded that he stop. The student then asserted his rights to take photographs on public domain. The officer then reportedly said: “Public domain, yeah we’ve heard that before!”, and starting shoving him.
Van Kuyk says: “He was pushing me, and I kept taking pictures and he didn’t like it, and he … got real aggressive and threw me to the ground.”
The police then arrested him and reportedly threw his camera, which is the property of the university, on the ground.
Van Kuyk's girlfriend, Meghan Feighan, then tried to pick up the camera to prevent it from being damaged, and was also arrested. Van Kyuk was apparently held in custody for 24 hours and his girlfriend for 18 hours.
As a result of this, 6 days after the event, Feighan agreed to pay a $200 fine to settle the case and accepted 12 hours of community service.
Mickey Osterreicher, a lawyer for the National Press Photographers Association, heard about the incident through the head of the university's journalism department. He then wrote a letter to the Police Department Commissioner of Philadelphia. In the letter he condemned the police officers for their actions and said that the charges brought against Van Kyuk were unjust.
Osterreicher told the university paper, the Temple News: “Not only wasn’t he committing any crimes, he was exercising a constitutionally protected form of free speech and free expression. The elements of most criminal charges contain a number of things, but they all have to have contained intent … his only intent at that point was to take pictures. I think they would have a very difficult time proving beyond a reasonable doubt those charges.”
If Van Kuyk's story behind the incident is confirmed, it would mean that the police were acting in violation of the Constitution and against the law. The action was also against an internal memorandum which was issued by the Philadelphia Police Commissioner, which clearly states the fact that the public has the free and clear right to film the actions of the police. The police have no right to prevent the public from exercising this right.
Van Kuyk's next court date is April 16, 2012.