PENNSYLVANIA — ATemple University photojournalism student who was arrested after taking photosof a routine traffic stop faces three criminal charges — though a previousfelony count has been dropped.
When Ian Van Kuyk was released from police custody March 15after almost 24 hours, he was told he was being charged with obstructingjustice, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, engaging in fighting andhindering apprehension, which is a felony.
Later that day, Magistrate Timothy O’Brien dropped the disorderlyconduct and hindering apprehension charges. Tasha Jameson, director ofcommunications for the district attorney’s office, said O’Brien likely feltthose two charges were unfit to pursue due to lack of evidence.
Van Kuyk claimed the police who arrested him and hisgirlfriend, Megan Fieghan, were overly aggressive. He and Feighan were allowedto make phone calls only after eight hours in jail, at which point they weretold they were being charged with disorderly conduct. The other charges were acomplete surprise when they were issued.
Police Lt. Raymond Evers declined to comment because thesituation was under investigation by internal affairs.
Van Kuyk and Feighan were sitting outside when policestopped a neighbor’s car near his apartment March 14. Van Kuyk had a classassignment to shoot photos at night, and took the opportunity to photograph thetraffic stop.
Van Kuyk said he never went within 10 feet of the police andeven backed off further when officers asked him to. He said he chose not to useflash because that was part of the assignment and he didn’t want to interruptthe police.
“When he took me to the ground, he was pushing my face intothe ground and saying, ‘Stop resisting,’” Van Kuyk said, “and I was clearly notdoing anything.”
The camera he was using is property of Temple University, soFeighan approached to retrieve it from harm’s way.
“They said, ‘Get away, get away, get away,’” Van Kuyk said,“and she said, ‘I just want to get the camera.’”
They then took her down too, Van Kuyk said. Feighan wascharged with hindering apprehension and disorderly conduct.
The whole event lasted a couple minutes at most, Van Kuyksaid. By the end, he said his face and left arm were bloodied and bruised.
Philadelphia Police Department policy urges police to expectand accept that they will be photographed while on duty.
“As such,” the policy reads, “police personnel shall notinterfere with any member of the general public or individuals temporarilydetained from photographing, videotaping or audibly recording police personnelwhile conducting official business or while engaging in an official capacity inany public space.”
Temple professor Ed Trayes, whose class Van Kuyk was takingthe photos for, said this is the worst case of a student photojournalist arresthe’s seen in 50 years of teaching.
“I can’t think right now of another time when (an arrest)resulted in physical injury,” he said.
Trayes said there needs to be a greater level ofunderstanding among police over photographers’ rights.
“If you stay away from the officers while they’re performingtheir duties, you have a right to photograph it,” Trayes said. “That’s what Ithink, that’s what I was taught and that’s what I’ve learned.”
Van Kuyk’s court date is set for April 16. He has not made aformal plea. Feighan’s charges were dropped in court March 20 in return for 12hours of community service and a $200 fine.
The National Press Photographers Association and theAmerican Civil Liberties Union have each shown interest in the case.
“There is no excuse for your officers to intentionallydisregard a citizen’s right to photograph an event occurring in a publicplace,” NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher wrote in a March 22 letter toPolice Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “Law enforcement agencies are establishedto uphold and enforce existing laws not to use them as a pretext to punishsomeone exercising their free speech right to photograph in public, in blatantviolation of the First and Fourth Amendments.”
Osterreicher said his organization does not intend torepresent Van Kuyk in court, but the ACLU and other attorneys have showninterest.
As far as Van Kuyk is aware, his photographs were nottampered with, and the camera was not damaged.
“You hear about this stuff happening all the time,” Van Kuyksaid, “but I never thought it would happen to me.”