Charges dropped against Photography Is Not a Crime blogger for posting police media relations number online

This is a local story for me since it involves the Boston Police Department. I’m happy to see a positive resolution, though disappointed that it the situation even arose. At its essence, a blogger was charged with witness intimidation and faced 10 years in prison for posting the publicly-available media relations phone number and email address for the Boston Police Department in a post about police harassment of a man taking video of police activity (video above).

Carlos Miller is the very active blogger behind the Photography Is Not a Crime site, which catalogs instances of photographers and videographers being arrested, detained, harassed, or otherwise interfered with by authorities while taking pictures or video. The blog is a valuable resource in the fight against increased limitations placed on visual media, especially regarding police activity. Miller frequently writes about intimidation and harassment of photographers by police, and entreats readers to write to police departments and lawmakers to fight against these injustices. We’ve covered laws preventing recording police activity before, in addition to other parts of the war on cameras.

In August 2013, Miller published a blog post about a video in which a Boston Police sergeant shoved and harassed a man taking video of police action on a public sidewalk. At the end of that post, Miller told readers to call the Boston Police Department and listed the Public Service Desk customer service number available on BPD’s own website. One reader did just that, recording a short conversation with Boston police spokeswoman Angelene Richardson, who found the recording online and filed a charge against Taylor Hardy for illegal wiretapping (Hardy maintains that permission was granted to record the call; the charge was later dropped). In a post discussing these wiretapping charges, Miller again asked readers to call a publicly available number to ask that charges be dropped. In a later post, Miller said he posted the number to “[allow] readers to contact them to show [BPD] we are paying attention.” After numerous readers called in about the charges, Boston Police Detective Nick Moore filed witness intimidation charges against Carlos Miller and threatened similar charges for anyone who called in.

Miller launched an indiegogo campaign to help with legal fees, ultimately raising $4300 to hire a lawyer. Readers continued to call in to the Boston Police Department, the lawyer mounted legal challenges to the charges, and the case started to draw some media attention. The Boston Police Department eventually folded and agreed to drop all charges against Miller and Hardy. You can read other summaries of the case by PBS and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Of particular note related to the BPD’s actions that started this whole chain of events, in 2011 a federal appeals court ruled against (pdf) Boston police arresting a man for using his cell phone to record police activity in public without permission. The court noted that “changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw.”

NYPD officer faces 7 years in jail after lying about photographer’s arrest

“Ackermann’s report said Stolarik had flashed his camera in Ackermann’s face several times as police told him to stop photographing a girl’s arrest. But according to the Times, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson’s office didn’t find any photographic evidence of a flash being used, nor did any witnesses corroborate Ackermann’s report.” -Cop Who Arrested Times Photographer Faces Seven Years in Prison, New York Magazine

The last time we wrote about New York City’s war on cameras, we showed a video of a police officer stopping frequent New York Times contributing photographer Robert Stolarik while he was taking pictures of arrests at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Stolarik is again at the center of a story in which police overstepped their bounds in preventing the operation of a free press. On Aug. 4, 2012, the photographer was taking pictures of the start of a streetfight in the Bronx.

According to the New York Times, police ordered Stolarik to stop taking pictures of an arrest, but he identified himself as a journalist and continued photographing the scene. One officer then grabbed his camera, he asked for badge numbers and names, and the police then took his cameras and forced Stolarik to the ground. The photographer was arrested. One police officer, Michael Ackerman, later claimed that Stolarik had deliberately used his flash camera’s flash in his face, interfering with the police officers’ duties and justifying an arrest. Yesterday, though, Ackerman was indicted on three felonies and five misdemeanors, alleging that Ackerman made up the events leading to the arrest. Evidence and witness testimony now make clear that Stolarik did not use a flash that night: his camera does not have a built in flash, his pictures from the event show no use of flash, and no witnesses report seeing bright lights. At the time of the arrest, Stolarik told New York Magazine that the charges were untrue.

The officer has been suspended without pay. Stolarik’s charges have been dismissed.

(via James Estrin on Facebook)

Woman arrested for Instagram photo

Instagram photo by Jennifer Pawluck
Graffiti that resembles policeman Ian Lafreni̬re РInstagram photo by Jennifer Pawluck

This week, Jennifer Pawluck, 20, was accused of criminal harassment and arrested after posting a photo (above) to Instagram. The photo shows a graffiti caricature of Montreal police Commander Ian Lafrenière, and was not painted by Pawluck. She photographed the graffiti on a building on March 26, posted it on Instagram, and was arrested at her home on April 3, nearly a week later. According to a CBC report, the police say that the reason for the arrest extends beyond just posting the photo to Instagram but give no further details. Pawluck says that she just wanted to show some well-done graffiti and did not mean for her actions to be threatening. She is scheduled to appear in court to face charges on April 17. Gawker has a bit more.