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Suffolk County prosecutor to drop charges against videojournalist

Charges against a videojournalist shooting footage of Suffolk County, New York, police last week will be dropped after prosecutors determined the cameraman had not interfered with a police investigation, according to an online Newsday report.

The incident began July 29 when Phil Datz, a videojournalist with Stringer News Service, a Long Island, NY, based news service, shot the aftermath of a car chase from across the street where police were working. A Suffolk County officer approached Datz and repeatedly ordered him to leave the scene or face being locked up. When Datz inquired why he had to leave, the officer told him because the area was “a current investigation” and “an active scene.” Video of the exchange is posted on YouTube.

After relocating a block away and beginning to shoot again, the officer entered his squad car, drove quickly to Datz’ new location, exited the car and arrested the videojournalist. Datz was charged with obstruction of government administration and released.

According to a statement on the Stringer News Service website, it began working with the Suffolk County Police Department following the incident to have the charges dropped. In an e-mail Aug. 1 from Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer posted on the Stringer News Service website, the commissioner said he was working with the Suffolk County District Attorney “to have the arrest nullified.”

The department also will conduct a review of how it deals with the press and “provide refresher training to all officers regarding the interaction between the news media and department personnel,” the statement said. Newsday reported Aug. 2 that the charges will be dropped.

The incident prompted reaction from press organizations, including The Radio-Television Digital News Association. In a press release, RTDNA encouraged police departments nationwide “to maintain an open line of communication with media outlets.” It also called on police to educate officers “on proper media practices and First Amendment rights” and offered its assistance.

“We’re happy the Suffolk County Police Department has rectified the situation,” RTDNA Chairman Mark Kraham is quoted as saying in the release. “This arrest showed a gross misunderstanding of the media’s First Amendment right to inform the public. With that said, RTDNA is here to help.”