Suffolk County police said they plan to have charges dropped against a local news cameraman who was arrested while covering the scene of a police chase that ended in a crash in Bohemia on Friday night.
Commissioner Richard Dormer said in a statement Monday that there is an internal review of the incident and all officers will undergo media relations refresher training. The announcement came about an hour after the Press Club of Long Island, a local trade group, called for the charges to be dropped.
“I am working with the Suffolk County District Attorney to have the arrest nullified,” Dormer said. “The police department believes in keeping an open line of communication with the media and we will be reviewing the department’s policy concerning involvement with the news media.”
A spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota did not have an immediate comment.
The incident unfolded when Phil Datz, a 34-year-old photojournalist working for Stringer News Network—a Long Island-based outlet that provides breaking news coverage to a host of television networks—was filming the scene of the investigation on Sycamore Avenue when a Fifth Precinct police officer ordered him to turn off his camera and leave or face arrest.
Raw footage of the interaction showed the officer, who Dormer identified as a supervisor, repeatedly telling Datz to “go away.” When Datz continued filming from a block away, he was arrested and charged with obstruction of governmental administration, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine.
Datz was released on an appearance ticket and was scheduled to be arraigned next month at First District Court in Central Islip. The video, which Datz posted on YouTube, has since gone viral, having been viewed nearly 6,000 times in the past three days.
“Our efforts have always been to forge a good working relationship with all police officers in the field,” Stringer News said in a statement following Dormer’s announcement. “Hopefully the attention brought to this situation will be used as a learning tool for both media and law enforcement alike.”
The press club said in its statement that it the video “indicates … a clear case of police abuse of authority and infringement of the journalist’s First Amendment rights.”
Tony Ryan, owner of Stringer News, told the Press that Datz does not have a police record. The said this is the third photographer working for the company arrested in three years—two by Suffolk police and one by New York State Police.