ROCKVILLE, MD – Photojournalist Mannie Garcia, who in June 2011 was the victim of an unlawful arrest at the hands of overzealous Montgomery County police in Maryland, an arrest that prevented him from being able to do his job at the White House, has now filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging civil rights violations under both the United States and Maryland Constitutions, as well as for other state claims.
Garcia's representation, the law firm of Merkin & Taylor LLC, along with the support of the National Press Photographers Association, filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on behalf of the veteran photojournalist on Tuesday.
Garcia's suit claims that he was unlawfully arrested and detained while filming police activity on a public street in the suburban neighborhood of Wheaton, MD. Officers apparently didn't like the fact that Garcia was photographing them while they were responding to a call of an incident involving two Hispanic male suspects. Since Garcia couldn't be arrested for the "crime" of taking pictures, a police officer physically injured Garcia and then arrested him on a trumped up charge of Disorderly Conduct, the photographer and his lawyers say.
Garcia was found not guilty at trial, but in the meantime Garcia lost the renewal of his White House Press Pass from the U.S. Secret Service due to the pending criminal charges, and in addition to his injuries the lack of credentials made it impossible for him to work. (Read News Photographer magazine's full story on the incident here).
The suit also alleges that Montgomery County Police officials failed to conduct an internal investigation regarding the matter. The lawsuit maintains that officers violated Garcia’s rights under the First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland State Constitution. The primary officer in the suit, Chris P. Malouf, and two other officers on the scene at the time of Garcia’s arrest – Kevin Baxter and Michael Graves – are named as defendants, as well as Chief of Police Thomas Manger and Montgomery County. The complaint also alleges false arrest, malicious prosecution, assault and battery, violation of civil rights, failure to properly train officers, and failure to supervise and discipline officers. Montgomery County apparently took no action against the officers after Garcia was found not guilty, and there was no internal investigation conducted.
Garcia is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages to be determined at trial.
"The NPPA has a long tradition of working with law enforcement to ensure the best relations between them and the working media,” NPPA president Sean D. Elliot said today.
“Sadly, the long litany of abuses of the basic First Amendment rights of individuals, including visual journalists, has reached a point where dialog is not working. The time has come for us to seek redress through the courts and hope that by asserting our Constitutional rights there we will be able to drive home a 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, was arrested after police observed him taking photographs of them as they were arresting two young Hispanic men. Garcia, 58, claims that Montgomery County Police officer Malouf put him in a “choke hold” while placing him under arrest. Garcia also claims he was then dragged across the street and repeatedly thrown to the ground until he was handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car. It is also alleged that Malouf illegally seized his camera and later was observed removing his video card, which was never returned to Garcia and is still missing. Both claims are violations of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Malouf’s police report states that Garcia was arrested for disorderly conduct. On December 16, 2011, Garcia was acquitted of all charges after a District Court judge found that the police complaint was not credible. Prior to the case coming to trial, the Secret Service became aware of Garcia’s pending criminal charges and denied the renewal of his White House Press Pass, which prevented him from working at there, one of his primary assignments as a photojournalist.
The suit also claims that Montgomery County officers have arrested other people for openly recording arrests, and that Montgomery County has created a custom of indifference to police misconduct by failing to investigate complaints and discipline officers. Garcia is seeking compensatory damages for the loss of earnings and the physical, psychological and professional damages he suffered as a result of his unlawful arrest; as well as an award of punitive damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
"Mr. Garcia is just one of too many visual journalists whose rights have been egregiously infringed upon of late,” said Elliot. “It is time for the NPPA to contribute to the efforts to hold these public servants accountable for their assault upon the First Amendment."