Mannie Garcia Reinstates Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit

Mannie Garcia, on location in Egypt, has covered the White House for two decades.
Mannie Garcia, on location in Egypt, has covered the White House for two decades.

ROCKVILLE, MD (December 7, 2012) – Today photojournalist Mannie Garcia reinstitued a federal civil rights lawsuit that is the result of his unlawful arrest in June 2011, an incident that Garcia says left him suffering “serious physical, emotional, and economic injuries” due to the actions of both Montgomery County police and prosecutors. 

The law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP reinstituted the suit today on Garcia’s behalf.

Among other things the new complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, seeks actual and punitive damages along with attorney’s fees for violations of Garcia’s rights under both the United States and Maryland Constitutions, as well as for other state claims. Originally filed last June, the lawsuit was withdrawn until Garcia could obtain new counsel.

According to the complaint, “This case involves the unlawful arrest, beating and malicious prosecution of Mannie Garcia, a veteran photojournalist who did nothing more than attempt to photograph Montgomery County Police Officers on a public thoroughfare. The officers involved consciously and deliberately violated the plaintiff’s rights and then fabricated accounts of the arrest for ‘disorderly conduct’ to conceal evidence of their wrongdoing.”

Although Garcia was acquitted of all charges by the judge after a trial, he had already been prevented from renewing his U.S. Secret Service-issued White House Press Pass because of those pending criminal charges. Adding insult to his physical injuries, the non-renewal of his credentials barred him from working at the White House and other places. (Read News Photographer magazine's full story on the incident here).

“In recent years we have seen a virtual war on photography by police departments across the country,” Garcia’s attorney Robert Corn-Revere said. He’s a partner in the firm’s Washington, DC, office. “Mannie Garcia’s mistreatment by the Montgomery County Police Department is a particularly egregious example of what happens when officers who are sworn to uphold the law forget that they must obey it as well. Mannie’s courage in stepping forward to hold the Montgomery County Police accountable will help protect the constitutional rights of photographers everywhere.”

The filed complaint also alleges that Montgomery County “compounded the problem by mounting a prosecution that lacked any legitimate basis and by whitewashing an internal affairs investigation of the officers’ misconduct.” The lawsuit claims that Garcia’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were violated. It is also alleged that the seizure of Mr. Garcia’s camera and video card violated the federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980. 

Additional state claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and battery were also alleged against Montgomery County police officers Chris P. Malouf, Kevin Baxter and Michael Graves. Also named in the lawsuit as defendants are Chief of Police Thomas Manger and police Lieutenant Mark Sheelor, along with Montgomery County. 

Additionally the suit alleges that the County failed to “adequately train its officers about the First Amendment right of the press and public to record police activity from public locations,” and also failed “to supervise and discipline its officers to keep them from improperly and unlawfully obstructing and/or preventing individuals from recording police activity in public locations.”

“The National Press Photographers Association has made extensive efforts to improve police-press relations,” said NPPA president Sean D. Elliot, “but it appears that in this case the total disregard for Mannie Garcia’s basic Constitutional rights must be affirmatively redressed by the courts.” It is only in this way that visual journalists will be able to assert the point that too many law enforcement agencies seem to be missing – that photography is not a crime.” 

The complaint alleges that Garcia, an NPPA member as well as a member of the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA), was with his wife and a family friend on the night of June 16, 2011. While walking on the street in Wheaton, MD, he witnessed the apparent arrest of two young Hispanic men nearby, became concerned as a journalist, and “began to record the incident photographically.” Despite being across the street from the scene it is alleged that officer Malouf approached him and immediately placed him under arrest even though “Mr. Garcia clearly and audibly identified himself as a member of the press, and opened his hands to show that he was peaceful, and had in his possession nothing but a camera.”   

According to the complaint “Officer Malouf then placed Garcia in a choke hold ... and forcibly dragged Garcia across the street, throwing him to the ground along the way, inflicting significant injuries.” It is then alleged that while “parked outside the station, and while still in the cruiser, Garcia watched Officer Malouf remove the battery and video card from his camera, and stash the video card in his shirt pocket.” 

Garcia was charged with violating Maryland Criminal Code § 10-201, which prohibits, among other things, willfully acting in a disorderly manner that disturbs the public peace. After a trial on December 16, 2011, Garcia was acquitted of all charges by a District Court judge. Shortly thereafter his White House Press credentials were reissued. The video card has never been returned and although Garcia filed a formal complaint with Montgomery County Police Department Internal Affairs regarding his mistreatment, no officers have been disciplined to date.  

“For almost 92 years the WHNPA has been working ‘to promote and protect the interests of its members assigned to cover the White House and other news events in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area,’” WHNPA president Ron Sachs said. “Mannie Garcia’s rights were violated by the Montgomery County Police through his unlawful detention and the denial of his constitutional rights. It is extremely disconcerting that law enforcement officials who are sworn to preserve and protect the Constitution disregard the rights of photojournalists by treating them as if they are instead criminals. The WHNPA commends our long-time member Garcia for standing up for the rights of all journalists,” he added.

NPPA general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher, who has been involved in this case from the outset and who has also provided training to various law enforcement agencies and organizations around the country, said, “It is unfortunate that despite an increasing awareness and recognition on the part of law enforcement regarding the right of the press and public to photograph and record matters of public concern in public places, there are still officers, departments and prosecutors who refuse to uphold their constitutional and ethical responsibilities. As I say in my training sessions with police using their own jargon, ‘We can do this the easy way or the hard way.’ Apparently Montgomery County has chosen the later route,” he said.