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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/29/12

Student Photographer's Arrest: Snapshot of Systemic Abuse

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Philadelphia police are now reinvestigating the incident in the wake of criticisms and critical news coverage.

According to Van Kuyk, Philly police, after demanding that he stop photographing them, and after their dismissing his First Amendment protests, snatched Van Kuyk up, slammed him to the ground, swept him off to a police station for a nearly 24-hour detention, and eventually slapped him with a slew of charges, including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction of justice.

How was Van Kuyk "obstructing justice' if as a NPPA letter to Philadelphia police contends Van Kuyk "never came closer than ten feet" to the police? That letter also notes that Van Kuyk "voluntarily backed up" when ordered by police before a policeman "approached [him] in an aggressive manner demanding that he stop taking pictures."

Police also arrested Van Kuyk's girlfriend, detaining her for 19-hours, also slamming her with trumped-up charges. Her arrest arose from her trying to retrieve Van Kuyk's school-issued camera.

At the core of this incident we see some Philadelphia police failing to follow clearly stated department policy. A Philadelphia Police Department directive issued in September 2011 bars officers from arresting people for "photographing, videotaping or audibly recording police personnel [conducting] official business"in any public space."

The "Purpose" listed on that policy, Memorandum (11-01), was to "remove any confusion as to duties and responsibilities" when police find themselves subjected to recording devices.

That National Press Photographers Association letter to Philadelphia's Police Commissioner, raising the First Amendment, stated "It is truly abhorrent that not only did your officers abrogate that right [they] chose to add insult to injury by overcharging Mr. Van Kuyk with offenses he did not commit."

Given that red-line PPD policy directive, police supervisors and prosecutors should have immediately pulled the plug on the charges against Van Kuyk and his girlfriend, but they didn't.

Prosecutors pressed the flawed-arrest-related charges against Van Kuyk's girlfriend, extracting their pound of flesh by forcing her into a program requiring 12-hours of community service and paying a $200 fine in exchange for their dismissing those flawed charges.

Van Kuyk is awaiting his preliminary hearing and possible trial.

The prosecution of Van Kuyk's girlfriend and his pending charges are a stain on both the ethical duty of prosecutors to seek justice and Pa Professional Conduct rules for prosecutors restricting prosecutions "not supported by probable cause."

Someone somewhere in Philly's prosecutor's office should have questioned questionable if not totally bogus charges arising from arrests prompted by police violating their department policy.

Philadelphia police spokesmen proclaim that the arresting officers knew about that directive protecting First Amendment activity, yet contend that "other things happened"that caused the officers to make an arrest," according to widely reported media accounts.

The Philadelphia Police Department's record of abusive misconduct, however, casts a dark shadow on the department's contention that "other things happened," as do eyewitness accounts.

This incident involving Van Kuyk is hauntingly similar to an August 1972 incident that occurred just ten blocks from Van Kuyk's apartment.

In that 1972 incident, a minister questioning police for pummeling a man outside his house triggered a home-invasion, with police ransacking the minister's home and arresting him, his wife, his daughter and a house guest from Germany.

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Linn Washington is a co-founder of This Can't Be Happening.net. Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and problems in the news media. He teaches multi-media urban journalism at Temple (more...)
 

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