Judge voids First Amendment settlement with NYPD
One day after formally approving a settlement between five photojournalists and the New York Police Department, a judge vacated the order on Sept. 8, 2023.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon wrote that she had received a letter from the Police Benevolent Association — the city’s largest police union — opposing the federal settlement. The settlement, announced Sept. 5, addressed violations of the journalists’ First Amendment rights while covering social justice protests in 2020.
In reversing her order, McMahon cited an earlier ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that police unions should be allowed to intervene in court cases involving NYPD policies.
McMahon gave the police union and the settling parties until the end of October to file motions opposing or supporting the settlement, and has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 6.
Journalists reach 'historic' settlement with NYPD in First Amendment suit
Five photojournalists reached a settlement with the New York Police Department in their federal lawsuit for violations of their First Amendment rights while covering social justice protests in 2020, the National Press Photographers Association announced on Sept. 5, 2023.
The NPPA, which filed the lawsuit with the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine in August 2021 on behalf of journalists Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi, Amr Alfiky, Mel D. Cole, Jae Donnelly and Adam Gray, called the agreement “historic,” and said it would provide new protections for journalists in New York, along with police training and policy changes.
The wide-reaching settlement agreement [PDF] lays out extensive rules for the NYPD’s interactions with journalists and formally acknowledges that the press has a clearly established First Amendment right to record police activity in public places. Among other stipulations, it outlines that journalists credentialed by New York City may remain to report after a general public dispersal order has been made, and requires prior approval in some circumstances before a journalist can be arrested. The agreement also prohibits kettling, a technique used by law enforcement to round up and arrest large groups.
Policy changes, including annual training for NYPD officers and access for journalists to all public spaces, are also part of the agreement. The department must also designate a compliance officer for the settlement.
In a statement about the settlement, NPPA general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher said he was pleased with the outcome and terms of the agreement. “Journalists are an essential part of a functioning, civil society and it’s essential that they be allowed to conduct their work free of harassment and assault, especially from state actors,” Osterreicher said.
Documentary and news photographer Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi was assaulted by a baton-wielding New York Police Department officer while she was photographing police beating a young man in lower Manhattan on June 1, 2020, according to a federal lawsuit.
Alhindawi is one of five news photographers who filed a federal lawsuit on Aug. 5, 2021, “seeking to hold the New York Police Department [NYPD] accountable for its violation of their First Amendment rights.” The suit is being led by the National Press Photographers Association, of which four of the journalists are members, in partnership with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
According to the complaint, Alhindawi was photographing NYPD officers beating a young man inside a Foot Locker store at 440 Broadway that had been broken into, “taking a position near the store window and to the left of the security gate,” alongside several other photographers. When the photographers were directed by officers to move back from the window, they complied and shifted to the other edge of the sidewalk.
“Alhindawi was staring down at the tilted-up view screen of her camera, focusing on getting her shot,” when at least two NYPD officers charged toward the group of photographers, according to the complaint. One swung a baton at Alhindawi, “striking her in the face and splitting her lip open.”
“This is an unprovoked assault. It's one thing to order or request someone to move back,” Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel to the NPPA, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. “It's another thing to physically assault someone for no apparent reason.” Osterreicher confirmed Alhindawi was carrying a camera and wearing a Frontline Freelance Register credential.
Alhindawi and the New York Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.