NEW JERSEY — Charges were dropped Wednesday against a Rutgers University at Newark graduate student who was arrested while trying to report on a fight at a transit station.
Niki Shah, 25, was arrested in September on disorderly conduct and obstructing the administration of the law charges for refusing to leave the scene of a fight at the train station, according to the police report.
Shah said he was traveling home from work on Sept. 1 when he witnessed an argument between a man and a woman at Newark’s Penn Station.
“I was observing [the fight] and taking out my notepad, taking notes on it,” he said. “The cop came over and asked me who I was, and I identified myself as a student journalist.”
Shah said the officer then asked him to move away from the scene three or four times, at which point Shah said he moved “about 50 feet away.”
That point is disputed by the arresting officer in the police report.
“As I was attempting to escort the subject away from the scene after he refused numerous times he resisted by pulling my arm away and also causing public annoyance and flailing his arms up and down and screaming,” said the arresting officer, A. Lee, in the police report.
Shah said he did not think he was interfering with what the police were doing.
“I didn’t feel like I was doing something wrong, but I was scared,” he said. “It was the first time I had ever been arrested.”
The case was dismissed because Lee did not show up for the hearing Wednesday, said Bennet Zurofsky, a lawyer who represented Shah from the Law Offices of Reitman Parsonnet, P.C. in Newark, N.J. Zurofsky said Associate Hilary Meyer appeared and made a motion to dismiss for lack of prosecution, which the court granted.
“According to my client, it was really an outrageous thing where the police didn’t want anyone recording what they were doing and reporting on it to anyone,” Zurofsky said. “We were real glad that we were able to prevent him from being exposed to any criminal sanctions.”
Sergio Bichao, Editor in Chief of the Observer, the student newspaper for which Shah worked, said he was glad to see the charges dropped.
“We thought it was great because it was wrong for him to have been arrested and charged in the first place,” Bichao said. “All he did was have a notebook out. He did what the officer told him to do.”
As for Shah, he said he hasn’t let the arrest affect his reporting.
“As a reporter I would still do the same thing if I had to do it over again,” he said. “You’re representing the public.”
— by Evan Mayor, SPLC staff writer