Photographers Settle Arrest Lawsuit With Toledo Police

TOLEDO, OH – The Toledo Police Department has made sweeping changes to its media policies thanks to a civil rights lawsuit brought by two professional news photographers who were arrested in violation of their civil rights while covering a Nazi demonstration and counter-demonstration there in December 2005, attorney Julie H. Hurwitz said today.

The City of Toledo has agreed to a monetary settlement and Police Departmental policy-change with photographers Jeffrey Sauger of Royal Oak, MI, and Jim West of Detroit, who brought a federal civil rights action after Toledo police officers violated their civil rights when they were arrested while covering the rally, Hurwitz said.

Sauger and West were covering the rally and accompanying anti-Nazi protest for the European Pressphoto Agency and the Southern Poverty Law Center respectively. They were charged with misdemeanors; West was acquitted at trial and Sauger's conviction was reversed by the Ohio Court of Appeals.

“It’s extremely rare for a police agency to agree to change its policies as a result of a civil rights lawsuit. So, we’re very proud of this settlement,” said attorney Kathryn Bruner James of Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C., the lawyers for the photographers. “We also wish to thank Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, who was extremely helpful in drafting the new policy language."

“I am very happy to have had the opportunity to be of assistance in this case,” Osterreicher said today from his office in Buffalo, NY. “All too often law enforcement agencies do not have explicitly written operational guidelines for dealing with the media. These newly adopted policy changes go a long way in addressing those concerns. My only hope is that they will be taken seriously and become part of Toledo’s ongoing police training,” he added.

A freelance photojournalist who frequently covers news, Sauger has been an NPPA member since 1990.

Sauger and West agreed to a substantial but lesser monetary award in exchange for the policy changes, Hurwitz said. Toldeo, as well as Lucas County, OH, settled with the plaintiffs before going to trial.

Hurwitz said that the Police Department policy changes should reduce the possibility of arbitrary and unfair arrests of journalists in the future. When Sauger was arrested, police said that the photojournalist lacked a temporary media credential for the event that had been issued to some news photographers earlier in the day. When he was detained by officers, Sauger was standing in a media area and was wearing his regular press credentials and carrying and using professional photography equipmen

In September 2007, a Toledo jury found photojournalist Sauger guilty of criminal trespass, the crime that he had been charged with when he was arrested at the rally. In November 2008, the Ohio Court of Appeals overturned Sauger's conviction based on the fact that he was denied a speedy trial, a right a defendant is guaranteed by law. After that, Sauger and Hurwitz pursued the Federal Civil Rights that led to the current settlement agreement announced today.

According to the settlement and its policy changes, the Toledo Police Department must now recognize all legitimate news media at newsworthy public events, Hurwitz said. The police have also changed their policy regarding who is considered a “legitimate” member of the news media and how officers are directed to interact with the news media.

The new policy also prohibits police from erasing or destroying images on photographers' cameras, which is what happened to a third photographer arrested on the same day, Jeffrey Willis of the Toledo Journal. (Willis was not a party to the civil rights lawsuit. He signed a waiver of his rights in exchange for dismissal of the criminal charges brought against him at the time.)