IAN VAN KUYK, a Temple University junior studying photojournalism, emerged from class earlier this month with a straightforward assignment: Take pictures at night.
Van Kuyk's professor had armed him with a Nikon D40 digital camera and the knowledge that he had the legal right to snap photos anywhere within the public domain.
Van Kuyk, 24, ended up getting a crash course on what happens when police don't want to be photographed, he said.
He and two of his Point Breeze neighbors say a police officer forced Van Kuyk to the ground, jamming his face into the sidewalk, and handcuffed and arrested him after he began photographing a March 14 traffic stop on his block.
"I was within my rights. I wasn't doing anything wrong. The officer began pushing and shoving me," Van Kuyk told the Daily News. "I told him, 'I'm just taking a photo. I'm a photojournalism student.' He got angry. And he just grabbed me and took me to the ground. He kept saying, 'Shut up. Stop resisting.' "
Police say Van Kuyk's arrest had nothing to do with his picture-taking. "The officers are fully aware of the First Amendment right to take photographs," Lt. Ray Evers said Monday.
The incident has incited the 7,000-member National Press Photographers Association and raised questions about whether all Philly cops are adhering to a memorandum, issued by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, saying that civilians have a right to record or photograph cops in a public space.
His memo followed a Daily News story in September about incidents in which cops wrongly arrested bystanders for using cellphones to record arrests.
"The only intent Ian [Van Kuyk] had was to take a picture," said former photojournalist Mickey Osterreicher, an attorney representing the photographers' association. "Did this officer miss the memo or something?"
According to Van Kuyk and two neighbors, here's what happened about 7:45 p.m. March 14:
Van Kuyk and his girlfriend, Meghan Feighan, 22, were sitting on their front stoop, on 17th Street near Dickinson, when two officers stopped a neighbor who had just parked in front of his house. Van Kuyk grabbed the Nikon and began taking photos. The cops ordered him out of the street, and he moved to the sidewalk. A cop pushed him to the ground, prompting a neighbor to call 9-1-1.
Feighan, fearing that the camera would break, took it from Van Kuyk. Then the cops arrested her on misdemeanor charges.
Police confiscated the camera and held Van Kuyk and Feighan in jail overnight, detaining Van Kuyk for nearly 24 hours. Upon release, Van Kuyk learned he was charged with hindering apprehension - a felony - and four misdemeanors. The felony charge later was dropped.
Evers said police supervisors have trained all officers on the law surrounding photos and film.
"The issue was not the student taking pictures," Evers said. "Other things happened . . . that caused the officers to make an arrest." But Evers declined to elaborate, citing an open Internal Affairs investigation.