U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist arrested at candlelight vigil for man killed on NYC subway

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 8, 2023
Location
New York, New York

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
New York City Police Department
Charges
Detention Date
Unnecessary use of force?
No
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Photojournalist Stephanie Keith was arrested on May 8, 2023, while documenting a candlelight vigil for a man who died on a New York City subway train earlier in the month. Keith was charged and released.

— REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
January 25, 2024 - Update

Charge dropped against photojournalist arrested at NYC vigil

The disorderly conduct charge against photojournalist Stephanie Keith was formally dropped on Jan. 25, 2024, after a six-month deferment. Keith was arrested on May 8, 2023, while documenting a candlelight vigil in New York City for a homeless man choked to death on a subway train by a fellow passenger.

Keith told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that during a July 25 hearing, the judge offered her an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, under which a case is suspended for six months before dismissing it, barring other charges.

“My lawyer just took it because he thought it would be the easiest thing to do, rather than continue to fight it,” Keith said. She added that she had been frustrated by the outcome: “I shouldn’t have to worry for the next six months if I’m going to be arrested again when I shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.”

Keith told the Tracker that she continued photographing protests over the period in part because a representative from the New York Police Department’s public information office provided her his contact information in case she ran into any issues. She added that she is grateful that the six months have lapsed because police have been “much more hands-on with those Palestinian protests.”

“Now with the NYPD getting a little more emboldened again, I feel like — with that atmosphere — I would feel a lot more trepidation in covering the protests,” Keith said. “The only times I ever feel unsafe are when I’m photographing a protest.”

July 25, 2023 - Update

Disorderly conduct charge against NY photojournalist deferred

A judge has deferred a disorderly conduct charge against photojournalist Stephanie Keith, who was arrested in New York in May while documenting a candlelight vigil for a homeless man who was choked to death on a subway train by a fellow passenger.

Keith's attorney Wylie Stecklow confirmed the adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, or ACD, which puts the proceeding on hold for six months and then dismisses the case barring other charges.

Stecklow also confirmed that New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, has opened a probe into Keith’s arrest. The probe was initially reported in the New York Post days after Keith's arrest.

“Even though we were able to have the charges dismissed, Stephanie Keith was still forced to take time from her schedule to deal with these baseless charges,” Stecklow said. “Hopefully the CCRB investigation will substantiate the misconduct of Chief John Chell, and the message sent to the NYPD is that the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment still [matter] in New York City.”

May 8, 2023

Freelance news photographer Stephanie Keith was arrested while documenting a candlelight vigil in New York, New York, on May 8, 2023.

The vigil was organized following the May 1 death of Jordan Neely, a homeless man who was choked to death on a subway train by a Marine Corps veteran. Keith has been documenting demonstrations in the wake of Neely’s death, with some of her coverage published in Brooklyn Magazine.

Keith was one of nearly a dozen people arrested at the May 8 vigil, according to the New York Post, which was held at the Broadway-Lafayette subway station in Manhattan where Neely was killed. In footage posted to Twitter by Oliya Scootercaster, Keith can be heard identifying herself as a press photographer as multiple officers place her in handcuffs and lead her away.

When reached for comment, a New York Police Department spokesperson confirmed that Keith was issued a summons and released, but declined to say which specific charges were filed against her.

The spokesperson directed the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker to footage of a press conference held later that evening. During the press conference, Chief of Patrol John Chell indicated that the majority of those arrested were charged with obstructing government administration and disorderly conduct.

“The reporter interfered in at least two arrests in the middle of the street and we got very physical,” Chell said. “She interfered a third time, so she was placed under arrest.”

Keith, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, told the Daily News she was detained at the 7th Precinct.

“I was trying to photograph what I thought was an arrest but I never even got a chance to see since they grabbed me as soon as I tried to photograph,” Keith told the News. “I said, ‘I’m press’ and they said, ‘You’re not, you’re arrested.’”

New York Press Photographers Association President Bruce Cotler said in a statement to the News that the organization stands in support of Keith and that he is confident the Manhattan district attorney will drop any charges against her.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, told the Tracker that Keith was charged with disorderly conduct.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with details of the charges filed against Keith.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].