PENNSYLVANIA — Misdemeanor charges have been re-filed againsta student at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., for takingphotographs for the student newspaper during a riot near campus that broke outafter a football victory last fall.
The Daily Collegian photographer Michael Felletter was originallycharged following the Oct. 25 riot with disorderly conduct and failure todisperse upon official order from the police. Charges were dropped againstFelletter on Jan. 21 when the charging detective did not show up for thescheduled court date because of illness, but Centre County District AttorneyMichael Madeira re-filed the charges against Felletter on Jan. 28.
Madeira has said Felletter’s charges are not a First Amendmentissue.
“This isn’t about who he was or who he was doing it for,”Madeira told the Collegian. “The allegation is that the police gavea lawful order that he refused to obey.”
Police at the scene said Felletter ignored multiple orders to leave, butFelletter says he left when asked.
Collegian editors maintain it is a free-press issue because ofphrasing in the criminal complaint, which alleges that Felletter “wasobserved participating in a riot of several thousand people by takingphotographs which excited the crowd and encouraged destructivebehavior.”
“To the board and myself, that’s very black and white –that’s saying he was rioting by being a member of the press covering theevent,” Editor in Chief Terry Casey* said. “It’s very clearlyto us a First Amendment issue.”
Adam Goldstein, legal advocate for the Student Press Law Center, agreesthat the description of Felletter’s alleged crimes conflicts with hisFirst Amendment rights.
“If documenting a criminal event is considered participating in thatevent, then there are criminals on the staff of every newspaper and TV stationin America,” Goldstein said.
Felletter, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the university’s JudicialAffairs in January, said in an e-mail that he’s disappointed Madeiradecided to re-file the charges.
“I’m not about to back down, though,” he said.
His preliminary court date is set for Feb. 25.
By Lisa Waananen, SPLC staff writer
CORRECTION, 2/2: An earlier version of this article misspelled Daily Collegian Editor Terry Casey’s name. The SPLC regrets the error. Return to story
For More Information:
Penn State photographer faces misdemeanor charges after covering riot for school paper, News Flash, 11/19/2008