Fox 6 reported that Mr. Fillinger “was shooting video behind the yellow police tape alongside a small crowd that gathered to watch” when the police officer came to him and ordered him to move back.
The station reported that Mr. Fillinger put his hand up defensively as the policeman was forcing him backwards, and accidentally touched the officer. Then, as the report states, Mr. Fillinger was knocked to the ground and arrested. He was cited for resisting and obstructing a police officer. Mr. Fillinger suffered bruises from the incident.
Fox 6 complained to the police department, and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) sent a formal letter of complaint to the police department protesting the arrest. Among other things, NPPA general counsel, Mickey Osterreicher pointed out that in making the arrest the police officer violated the department's own policies.
Mr. Osterreicher wrote,
“While in some situations the press may have no greater rights than those of the general public, they certainly have no less right of access on a public street. Sgt. Thomas Heinz pretextually stated he has moving Mr. Fillinger 'for his own safety' yet did not see fit to move any other persons back or to move the previously established police/fire lines….”
Indeed, while members of the press don't necessarily have greater rights than the general public, they certainly don't have fewer rights.In response to Mr. Osterreicher's letter of complaint, and Fox 6's complaint to the department, on September 21, 2011, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn spoke to the media and blamed the 68 year-old news photographer’s failure to comply with the officer’s request as the cause of the incident.
Chief Flynn, is apparently ignoring that the officer's actions moving Mr. Fillinger back violated his First Amendment rights, both as a private citizen and member of the press, that Mr. Fillinger touched Sgt. Heinz by accident, and that Sgt. Heinz's actions violated Milwaukee Police Department policy.
Chief Flynn's response was just another in a series of governmental responses which are a general attack on photographers' Constitutional rights nationwide in the US. The actions in Wisconsin, like those in Florida, and Maryland, which I have written about, affect all photographers, both amateur and professional alike, at home and while traveling.
On September 22, 2011, Mr. Osterreicher wrote to Chief Flynn a second letter which in part stated,
“Although I have yet to receive a response to my letter dated 9/20/11 I have had an opportunity to listen to the comments you made to the Milwaukee media yesterday. I find it quite disturbing to hear you say that 'if the cameraman had simply complied with the instructions, had simply complied with the instructions to back off from a working fire none of this hullabaloo would be taking place.' As is clearly evident from Mr. Fillinger’s video he was complying with the sergeant’s unlawful order when he was forcefully pushed to the ground and arrested. In case you did not have an opportunity to read the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit that I sent, it is well established that the 'fundamental and virtually self-evident nature of the First Amendment’s protections' guarantees the 'right to film government officials or matters of public interest in public space.'”It's important for the American photography community to take appropriate action to rid the nation of this irrational fear of public photography and videography.