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Charges re-filed against Penn State photographer

January 30, 2009

PENNSYLVANIA -- Misdemeanor charges have been re-filed against a student at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., for taking photographs for the student newspaper during a riot near campus that broke out after a football victory last fall.

The Daily Collegian photographer Michael Felletter was originally charged following the Oct. 25 riot with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse upon official order from the police. Charges were dropped against Felletter on Jan. 21 when the charging detective did not show up for the scheduled court date because of illness, but Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira re-filed the charges against Felletter on Jan. 28.

Madeira has said Felletter's charges are not a First Amendment issue.

"This isn't about who he was or who he was doing it for," Madeira told the Collegian. "The allegation is that the police gave a lawful order that he refused to obey."

Police at the scene said Felletter ignored multiple orders to leave, but Felletter says he left when asked.

Collegian editors maintain it is a free-press issue because of phrasing in the criminal complaint, which alleges that Felletter "was observed participating in a riot of several thousand people by taking photographs which excited the crowd and encouraged destructive behavior."

"To the board and myself, that's very black and white -- that's saying he was rioting by being a member of the press covering the event," Editor in Chief Terry Casey* said. "It's very clearly to us a First Amendment issue."

Adam Goldstein, legal advocate for the Student Press Law Center, agrees that the description of Felletter's alleged crimes conflicts with his First Amendment rights.

"If documenting a criminal event is considered participating in that event, then there are criminals on the staff of every newspaper and TV station in America," Goldstein said.

Felletter, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the university's Judicial Affairs in January, said in an e-mail that he's disappointed Madeira decided to re-file the charges.

"I'm not about to back down though," he said.

His preliminary court date is set for Feb. 25.

By Lisa Waananen, SPLC staff writer

CORRECTION, 2/2: An earlier version of this article misspelled Daily Collegian Editor Terry Casey's name. The SPLC regrets the error. Return to story


For More Information: Penn State photographer faces misdemeanor charges after covering riot for school paper, News Flash, 11/19/2008

© 2009 Student Press Law Center

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