The Suffolk County Legislature agreed to pay a freelance video journalist $200,000, create a media relations committee and continue training police officers on First Amendment rights after he was arrested for filming police activity on a public street.
Late Tuesday, the Legislature approved a proposed settlement with Philip Datz that will be sent to Eastern District Judge Leonard Wexler for approval.
Datz v. Milton, 2:12-cv-01770, arose out of an incident on July 29, 2011, when Datz, who was working for Stringer New Service, began to cover a police pursuit on Sycamore Avenue in Bohemia.
According to the complaint, Datz was filming from a public sidewalk and was prominently displaying his press credentials when an officer ordered him to leave. Datz moved a block away, even though there were no police lines, and resumed filming, only to be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
The Sullivan County district attorney dropped the charges a week later, and the county police department’s internal affairs bureau found the officer had made a false arrest and violated departmental procedures.
Datz contended that his arrest and detention was part of a “long-standing and ongoing” pattern in which Suffolk County police violate the First Amendment rights of citizens to prevent them from recording police activity in public view.
While continuing to deny liability, the county agreed to settle for $200,000, including legal fees, establish a Police-Media Relations Committee, and maintain an annual training and testing program.
Datz’s suit was filed by Davis Wright Tremaine, the National Press Photographers Association and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Robert Balin of Davis Wright was lead counsel for the plaintiff. Susan Flynn, a bureau chief in the Suffolk County Attorneys Office, and Brian Davis of Garden City represented the county.
“We believe this is a fair settlement which underscores the pivotal role the media serves for the police department and the public,” the county said in an email Wednesday.