April 22, 2021, Washington, D.C. -- The National Press Photographers Association is very pleased to announce a substantial monetary settlement in the case of one of its members, Kian Kelley-Chung, against the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), its acting chief and some of its officers.
This case involves the unlawful arrest, and seizure of photographic equipment and images and recordings, of a visual journalist and documentarian who, on the evening of August 13, 2020, was in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. gathering information for a documentary as part of his coverage of public protests arising from the killing of George Floyd and police brutality throughout the summer of 2020.
While covering protests in that area he was “kettled” with protesters and arrested by police despite his informing them of his press status, and that he was actively covering the protests. Officers also seized his two cameras, their storage media and his smartphone. He was held in custody for over 18 hours before being released and given a “No Paper/No Charges” slip indicating he had been arrested for “felony rioting,” but that no charges were being pursued. Despite his release, Mr. Kelley-Chung’s photographic equipment, and their contents, were not returned to him and MPD refused to provide him an inventory of his seized property.
Beginning on August 20, 2020, and for the next several weeks, Mickey H. Osterreicher, NPPA’s general counsel, sought the return of his equipment, which Mr. Kelley-Chung finally was able to retrieve on October 23, 2020 – 10 full weeks after the MPD seized it. “It is truly unfortunate that once again police refused to follow the law, at significant cost to taxpayers while ignoring constitutional protections and department policies,” Osterreicher said.
As part of the NPPA and First Look Media’s Press Freedom Defense Fund Legal Advocacy Initiative, Bob Corn-Revere and Ronnie London of the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine filed a complaint on January 13, 2021, alleging among other things, a violation of Mr. Kelley-Chung’s First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights along with a failure of the MPD to train, supervise and discipline its officers. The complaint also alleged that the defendants’ seizure of Mr. Kelley-Chung’s equipment was a violation of the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 which was enacted to protect a journalist’s work product.
Finally, the complaint alleged false arrest and imprisonment along with conversion of his property. “We are gratified we were able to achieve some measure of justice for Kian without protracted litigation, but we remain concerned that the lesson has not yet sunk in that respecting the rights of photographers and reporters is not optional for police officers. Hopefully, outcomes like this will help reinforce that message,” noted his attorney Bob Corn-Revere.
“I want to thank NPPA, its board members and legal support team for their help, as well as my lawyers at Davis Wright Tremaine for their dedication and hard work achieving this settlement. Financial restitution is only a step forward in accountability. It is important that people remember the power they have when they hold a camera, and their ability to hold the system accountable,” said Kian Kelley-Chung.
About NPPA: Since its founding in 1946, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) has been the Voice of Visual Journalists. NPPA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit professional organization dedicated to the advancement of visual journalism, its creation, editing and distribution in all news media. NPPA encourages visual journalists to reflect the highest standards of quality and ethics in their professional performance, in their business practices and in their comportment. NPPA vigorously advocates for and protects the constitutional rights of journalists as well as freedom of the press and speech in all its forms, especially as it relates to visual journalism. Its members include still and television photographers, editors, students, and representatives of businesses serving the visual journalism community. NPPA’s sister organization, the National Press Photographers Foundation (NPPF) supports NPPA’s charitable and educational efforts.
For more information contact: Mickey H. Osterreicher, NPPA General Counsel, [email protected], 716.983.7800
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