John C. O'Connell/Herald
Philip Datz spoke at a Press Club of Long Island event shortly after his arrest in July for videotaping an active crime scene in Suffolk County.
A videojournalist, arrested last year by Suffolk County Police after he was filming a crime scene, has filed suit against the county and the arresting officer, claiming his civil rights were violated.
Philip Datz, 35, of Valley Stream, is seeking a jury trial in the case. The suit was filed last week in conjunction with the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Press Photographers Association. It alleges that Datz’s First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested by Sgt. Michael Milton.
Datz, an independent and credentialed photojournalist, was filming for Stringer News Service, and his video work has regularly been used by major New York and national news networks including CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, CNN and News 12. “Mr. Datz got arrested for doing his job,” said his attorney, Robert Balin, of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. “We feel this is a clear and compelling constitutional violation.”
On July 29, 2011, Datz learned of a police pursuit in Bohemia and arrived at a scene on Sycamore Avenue where a suspect was being taken into custody. Datz parked his car at an elementary school across the street and began filming. He was soon approached by Milton, who told him to turn off the video camera and leave. In the video, Milton repeatedly shouts at Datz to “go away” and says if he doesn’t leave, he will get locked up. Milton then tells Datz he cannot film because it is an active investigation.
Datz kept his camera running throughout the confrontation with Milton, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Repeatedly, Datz asks where he could go to continue filming but Milton responds “no place.”
Eventually, Datz moves about a block away to continue filming. As seen in the video, Milton pulls his patrol up to Datz at a high rate of speed, gets out of the car and tells Datz to put the camera down. Then the video ends.
According to the complaint, Datz was arrested and taken to Suffolk’s 4th Precinct, and later the 5th Precinct to be processed. He was kept in police custody more than two hours, and was released on an appearance ticket, charged with obstructing governmental administration. His videotape was not given back to him for another hour.