Penn State photographer faces misdemeanor charges after covering riot for school paper

PENNSYLVANIA -- A photographer for the Pennsylvania State University Daily Collegian has been ordered to appear in court Dec. 10 to face misdemeanor charges after covering a riot in downtown University Park, Pa.,* in October.

The photographer, Michael Felletter, a 20-year-old junior at Penn State, was charged with one count of failure to disperse and one count of disorderly conduct as he was covering the Oct. 25 riot, which followed a Penn State football victory against Ohio State.

Collegian Editor in Chief Terry Casey said that Felletter had been asked to cover the riot by the paper's photo editor. As the police moved in to stop the riot, Felletter identified himself as a member of the press and a police officer allowed him to remain in the area.

According to a Collegian article, State College police officer Nick Argiro said in the criminal complaint that he told Felletter to leave the area twice and that he failed to do so. When Argiro saw Felletter a third time, he took his driver's license.

Felletter said in the Collegian article that he was only asked to leave the scene of the riot once by Argiro. He said Argiro threatened him with pepper spray and arrest, and when he continued to take pictures of Argiro over his shoulder as he left, the officer demanded his license. He denies police charges that he refused to leave when told and that he incited the crowd to become more destructive.

"I never obstructed the police in any way, nor did I make any act to escalate the situation further," said Felletter in an e-mail. "I was there to do my job, nothing more."

Casey said that Felletter did not do anything wrong by covering the riot.

"He did have a right to be there covering the event, and when he was asked to leave he did cooperate," said Casey. "So the only thing he did that sort of ticked off police, it sounds like, is to take photos as he walked away."

State College Police Capt. Dana Leonard could not comment on Felletter's case specifically, but said his charges are common for people at the scene of a riot.

"The specific charge of failure to disperse means there's a disorder in the vicinity, and the police, in order to restore order, order people to disperse," Leonard said. "They're ordered to disperse, and if they fail to do so, they can be charged with the misdemeanor."

Casey said that following the riot, police officers approached both Felletter and the Collegian to obtain unpublished photos in order to identify riot participants. Both students told the police that it was against the Collegian's policy to turn over photos that had not been published, and the police did not press the issue.

Casey said that Felletter will remain on the staff of the Daily Collegian.

"We are supporting our photographer," he said.

CORRECTION, 11/20: An earlier version of this article said Penn State was in State College, Pa. The SPLC regrets the error. Return to story

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