Pa. college journalist arrested while photographing traffic stop
PENNSYLVANIA — A Temple University photojournalism student who was arrested after taking photos of a routine traffic stop faces three criminal charges — though a previous felony count has been dropped.
When Ian Van Kuyk was released from police custody March 15 after almost 24 hours, he was told he was being charged with obstructing justice, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, engaging in fighting and hindering apprehension, which is a felony.
Later that day, Magistrate Timothy O’Brien dropped the disorderly conduct and hindering apprehension charges. Tasha Jameson, director of communications for the district attorney’s office, said O’Brien likely felt those two charges were unfit to pursue due to lack of evidence.
Van Kuyk claimed the police who arrested him and his girlfriend, Megan Fieghan, were overly aggressive. He and Feighan were allowed to make phone calls only after eight hours in jail, at which point they were told they were being charged with disorderly conduct. The other charges were a complete surprise when they were issued.
Police Lt. Raymond Evers declined to comment because the situation was under investigation by internal affairs.
Van Kuyk and Feighan were sitting outside when police stopped a neighbor’s car near his apartment March 14. Van Kuyk had a class assignment to shoot photos at night, and took the opportunity to photograph the traffic stop.
Van Kuyk said he never went within 10 feet of the police and even backed off further when officers asked him to. He said he chose not to use flash because that was part of the assignment and he didn’t want to interrupt the police.
“When he took me to the ground, he was pushing my face into the ground and saying, ‘Stop resisting,’” Van Kuyk said, “and I was clearly not doing anything.”
The camera he was using is property of Temple University, so Feighan approached to retrieve it from harm’s way.
“They said, ‘Get away, get away, get away,’” Van Kuyk said, “and she said, ‘I just want to get the camera.’”
They then took her down too, Van Kuyk said. Feighan was charged with hindering apprehension and disorderly conduct.
The whole event lasted a couple minutes at most, Van Kuyk said. By the end, he said his face and left arm were bloodied and bruised.
Philadelphia Police Department policy urges police to expect and accept that they will be photographed while on duty.
“As such,” the policy reads, “police personnel shall not interfere with any member of the general public or individuals temporarily detained from photographing, videotaping or audibly recording police personnel while conducting official business or while engaging in an official capacity in any public space.”
Temple professor Ed Trayes, whose class Van Kuyk was taking the photos for, said this is the worst case of a student photojournalist arrest he’s seen in 50 years of teaching.
“I can’t think right now of another time when (an arrest) resulted in physical injury,” he said.
Trayes said there needs to be a greater level of understanding among police over photographers’ rights.
“If you stay away from the officers while they’re performing their duties, you have a right to photograph it,” Trayes said. “That’s what I think, that’s what I was taught and that’s what I’ve learned.”
Van Kuyk’s court date is set for April 16. He has not made a formal plea. Feighan’s charges were dropped in court March 20 in return for 12 hours of community service and a $200 fine.
The National Press Photographers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union have each shown interest in the case.
“There is no excuse for your officers to intentionally disregard a citizen’s right to photograph an event occurring in a public place,” NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher wrote in a March 22 letter to Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “Law enforcement agencies are established to uphold and enforce existing laws not to use them as a pretext to punish someone exercising their free speech right to photograph in public, in blatant violation of the First and Fourth Amendments.”
Osterreicher said his organization does not intend to represent Van Kuyk in court, but the ACLU and other attorneys have shown interest.
As far as Van Kuyk is aware, his photographs were not tampered with, and the camera was not damaged.
“You hear about this stuff happening all the time,” Van Kuyk said, “but I never thought it would happen to me.”
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