The general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association says he is ready to take on the NYPD if allegations by a Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish photographer who claims that an NYPD officer deleted his pictures and damaged his equipment prove to be true.
In an interview that aired on Zev Brenner’s Talkline show last night, Mickey Ostreicher spoke at length with Brenner about whether or not police officers have the right to restrict photographers from taking pictures of events that occur in public or to confiscate any footage they may have obtained.
The incident in question took place at approximately 3:30 PM on Wednesday, January 16th, when noted VIN News photographer Shimon Gifter heard of an incident that was taking place on Avenue M and E 15th Street.
“I had gotten word that an officer was in need of assistance, so I went to the scene,” Gifter told VIN News. “I was told that there had been a fight, involving about fifty people and that an officer had called for backup, but when I got there everything was pretty much over. I took a few pictures, although there wasn’t much to see, and then spent some time talking to a bystander, Dovid Willner.”
During that time Gifter and Willner observed several police officers stopping a group of youths in front of the old Mountain Fruit location. Gifter took out his handheld video camera and began filming the proceedings.
The full interview with National Press Photographers Association Mickey Ostreicher.
“An officer came over and told me that I couldn’t take video because they were juveniles, but I pointed out to him that it wasn’t illegal for me to take video in public,” recalled Gifter. “He was an officer I had seen at other police scenes and he smiled at me and we fist pumped and I thought that was the end of the story.”
With his camera in one hand and his phone in the other, Gifter continued his conversation with Willner, but approximately five minutes later, Willner noticed a group of five or six police officers approaching. According to Willner, one officer in particular looked over Gifter’s shoulder at his camera, starting smiling and then began to laugh, before he grabbed Gifter’s hand and pulled it behind his back, telling him he was under arrest.
“I asked them what I was under arrest for and he just keeps telling me I am under arrest,” said Gifter. “They took my camera and my phone and I told them that I am media and he asked to see my press pass but every time I put my hand in my pocket to get my press pass he kept telling me to take my hands out of my pocket.”
Gifter alleges that the officer in question, a sergeant with three stripes and a fifteen year veteran of the force, confiscated his camera, deleting everything that was on it before throwing it on the floor, in addition to damaging his BlackBerry.
Sammy Teitelbaum, who also witnessed the alleged attack, said that Gifter was handcuffed and put up against a wall during the altercation before he was finally released with a warning.
“I told them to give him a chance to talk and they told me if I say one more word, they will handcuff me as well,” reported Teitelbaum, who estimated that it was a group of five or six police officers who approached Gifter.
Teitelbaum, who said that he himself was at the location because he had seen the earlier fight and had stopped to offer assistance to the police officer who appeared to be having trouble controlling the crowd, said he couldn’t believe what he saw taking place before him.
“I thought I was in Russia, or someplace where there is no law, no nothing,” said Teitelbaum. “This is embarrassing for the badge. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. The police officer should be punished and his badge should be taken away.”
Sergeant Lee Jones of the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information confirmed to VIN News that the incident is currently under investigation by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Division. No further comments from the NYPD are available about the alleged assault at this time.
In his conversation with Brenner, Ostreicher said that Gifter was within his rights in videotaping the police stop, even though it involved juveniles and that according to the NYPD patrol guide, police officers did not have the right to ask Gifter to stop filming, nor did they have the right to delete anything from his camera.