Photojournalist arrested while covering climate demonstration, equipment seized

July 9, 2019

On June 22, 2019, independent photojournalist Michael Nigro was arrested in New York City while covering a demonstration calling for aggressive action on climate change outside the headquarters of The New York Times.

Protesters from the group Extinction Rebellion had staged a direct action on 41st Street and Eighth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, Nigro said, with some protesters blocking traffic on Eighth Avenue and others scaling the Times building to unfurl banners.

“I, as a journalist, was covering the action and was looking for a good vantage point,” he told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Nigro went to the third floor of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a busy transit station located across the street from the Times building, to document the protest. Port Authority police officers responding to the protest then arrived and asked him to leave.

Nigro said that he was wearing two press badges around his neck — one from the National Press Photographers Association and one given to accredited journalists by the NYPD. He showed the badges to the officers and asserted his right to film the protest. After some back-and-forth discussion with the officers, he agreed to leave the area. Unexpectedly, the officers then arrested him for trespassing.

“While we were leaving, their radio went off and they were told to arrest me,” he said. “They apologized.”

Nigro was then taken to the Port Authority police station and handcuffed to a wall, and both his phone and camera were seized as evidence. He estimates that he was handcuffed to the wall for about two hours before Port Authority police officers escorted him to an interrogation room, where he was chained to a bench, read his Miranda rights, and questioned by detectives. Nigro said that he refused to answer any questions without his lawyer present. He was then fingerprinted and brought to a holding cell.

Nigro said that while he was detained in the holding cell, an officer from the NYPD’s media relations office — known as the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information, or DCPI — visited him in his cell to inform him that the NYPD was revoking his official press badge.

Nigro was eventually issued a desk appearance ticket and released, but his arresting officer refused to return his camera and phone. The police returned his equipment and press badge to him a week later.

The desk appearance ticket lists a single charge against Nigro — criminal trespass in the third degree, a Class B misdemeanor — and requires him to appear in New York City criminal court on Aug. 22.

CNN reported that more than 60 protesters were also arrested during the demonstration and charged with disorderly conduct.

This is not the first time that Nigro has been arrested while working as a journalist. In 2018, he was arrested and charged with “failure to obey” while covering a civil disobedience action in Jefferson City, Missouri. The charges were later dropped. Before that, in 2016, he was arrested while documenting an anti-Trump march in New York City.

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

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