A TEMPLE University photojournalism student and his girlfriend are suing two Philadelphia police officers who they say wrongly arrested them in 2012 while he was photographing a neighbor's arrest in Point Breeze.
The lawsuit, filed last week in Common Pleas Court by Ian Van Kuyk and Meghan Feighan, seeks compensatory and punitive damages for assault, battery, false arrest and imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. The defendants are Officers Samuel Allen and Santos Higgins.
Van Kuyk, 26, made national headlines after his March 2012 arrest on charges of obstructing justice, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct - an arrest that he said resulted from his refusal to stop snapping photos of Allen and Higgins making a traffic stop outside his home on 17th Street near Dickinson. Feighan, 24, also was charged with obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct.
In November 2012, Municipal Judge Felice Stack found Van Kuyk and Feighan not guilty of all charges.
The arrest raised doubts about whether cops were following Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey's 2011 memo advising that civilians are allowed to record or photograph officers in public spaces. The memo followed a September 2011 Daily News story about wrongful arrests of civilians using cellphones to record arrests.
"The police, we don't think, should view someone who is photographing or videotaping their activity as an adversary," said Mark Tanner, an attorney representing the couple in the lawsuit. "If you're a public servant and you're doing your job and doing it well, then video evidence or photographic evidence can only help you."
In November 2012, Ramsey issued a directive about the public's right to record officers as long as they are not interfering with the officer's safety or ability to conduct official duties.
"All officers have been informed of this policy via roll call and other training methods, and each officer has been provided a copy of the policy," said Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman. "We haven't seen any recent issues regarding this policy, but if we are informed of any issues then we will address those issues properly."
Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said some cops are not complying with the directive. The ACLU is suing the city in federal court for allegedly arresting people in retaliation for observing or photographing officers performing their duties.
In January, a police officer ordered a Daily News reporter to stop photographing an arrest outside a jewelry store at 8th and Chestnut streets. When asked for an explanation, the officer said that it was "police business" and that photos weren't allowed.
"We get those complaints," Roper said. "The department, I think, is slow to realize that just because they write something down doesn't mean all of the officers follow it."
Sometimes a camera is the only thing between an innocent person and a jail cell.
In Bloomfield, N.J., recently released police dashboard-camera footage helped exonerate Marcus Jeter, 30, a disc jockey who faced several years in prison for allegedly assaulting an officer and eluding police in 2012.
The footage raises serious doubts about the officers' accounts of the arrest.
After seeing video of the stop, which showed officers hitting Jeter, prosecutors dropped all charges against him. Two Bloomfield officers were indicted last month on misconduct and conspiracy charges.