In March 2012, Temple University film and media arts major Ian Van Kuyk was taking pictures of two policemen pulling over a car outside his residence for a night-photography assignment part of his photojournalism course.
According to an article in USA Today, Van Kuyk explained that he was 15 feet away from the traffic stop and did not use the flash while taking the pictures. But, this was not enough for Philadelphia officers Samuel Allen and Santos Higgins who ended up arresting Van Kuyk for “obstructing justice, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, engaging in fighting and hindering apprehension.” His girlfriend Meghan Feighan tried picking up his camera, but instead was charged with obstruction and disorderly conduct.
The charges for Van Kuyk and Feighan were dropped but now, two years later, they are trying to sue the police officers for having been mistreated and arrested for no good reason. According to the same USA Today article, they are filing the law suit against them in Common Pleas Court requesting “compensatory and punitive damages for assault, battery, false arrest and imprisonment and malicious prosecution.”
“There is no excuse for your officers to intentionally disregard a citizen’s right to photograph an event occurring in a public place. 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 … His rights were not only stripped, they were trampled,” the general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association argued in a letter to Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey.
What happened to Van Kuyk and Feighan is unfair and inappropriate. This Editorial Board believes that there was no reason for the students to be arrested since they were not doing anything illegal or against the law.
The police officers were outside in a public area and according to the American Civil Liberties Union, “When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.”
Obviously, the charges against the two students should not have been made in the first place. Van Kuyk was trying to do a homework assignment for his journalism class and was arrested for doing absolutely nothing illegal. This is wrong and mistakes like this should not continue to happen.
The lawyer representing the two students said, “The police, we don’t think, should view someone who is photographing or videotaping their activity as an adversary. If you’re a public servant and you’re doing your job and doing it well, then video evidence or photographic evidence can only help you.”
It is good to see that Van Kuyk and Feighan are fighting this instead of just letting it go. Their rights were taken away from them, which is not acceptable. Hopefully, all goes well and they are able to fight this all the way to the end.