UPDATE: NPPA general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher was contacted by an investigator in the Office of Professional Responsibility with the U.S. Capitol Police who has been assigned to investigate possible Rules of Conduct violations by their officers in reference to the July 24, 2017 incident in the Capitol during which its officers alleged interfered with journalists and ordered them to delete images.
Osterreicher has been asked to provide the names and contact information of journalists who reported that they were involved so they may be contacted as part of the investigation. He also has been asked to obtain the names or physical descriptions of any officers that may have been present in order to further the investigation and help identify those officers involved. If you were present, have such information or photographs/recordings of the incident please, contact Osterreicher at [email protected] or at 716.983.7800.
This past July news reports claimed that U.S. Capitol Police blocked journalists’ coverage of health care protests and officers ordered them to delete their images.
In response to a subsequent letter from National Press Photographers Association General Counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher, joined by other media and press freedom groups objecting to the reported incidents, Matthew Verderosa, chief of police of the United States Capitol Police, responded by letter in August saying that they “take the allegations you have raised very seriously.” He assured that the Office of Professional Responsibility would “conduct a thorough investigation.”
Along with an abridgment of First Amendment free press rights, Osterreicher’s letter cited violations of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures, the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process and the Privacy Protection Act of 1980. Also cited was a U.S. Department of Justice directive that under the First Amendment, there are no circumstances where the contents of a camera or recording device may be deleted or destroyed.
The incident in question happened on July 25, 2017, during the Senate vote to open debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. Protestors were outside the hearing and many were disabled, some in wheelchairs. As police began to arrest them, reporters were told that the area was a “crime scene” and they could not record the arrests. Others were told by officers to delete their photos and video. Gabby Morrongiello, the Washington bureau chief of the New York Post, reported the officers demands on her Twitter feed.
In the letter from the NPPA, Osterreicher wrote that the incident is “An abridgment of the free speech and freedom of the press clauses of the First Amendment protecting the rights of both citizens and journalists to photograph and record police performing their official duties in a public place. The pretextual claim that something is a ‘crime scene’ when it is in plain view of those standing where they otherwise have a legal right to be present does not negate those rights.”
The American Society of Media Photographers, The National Press Club, The National Press Club Journalism Institute, PEN America, the Radio and Television Digital News Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists joined in the original letter of protest to police.