FERGUSON, MO (August 20, 2014) – The lawyer for the National Press Photographers Association who is on the ground in Ferguson alongside photojournalists has just filed a formal letter of complaint, as well as a request for an official investigation, into the "unlawful and unprofessional activities" of a uniformed and armed police officer who pulled his gun on a photographer.
Writing to the commanders of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Ferguson Police Department, and the St. Louis County Police Department, NPPA's general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher asked for a formal investigation into a police officer who threatened an NPPA member photojournalist last night with his drawn service revolver.
"This dangerous action was in response to photojournalist Raffe Lazarian asking [the police officer] the simple question, 'Which way do I need to go in order to get to the media area?'" Osterreicher wrote.
"In contravention of all known and accepted firearms policies, the officer drew his weapon and pointed it at Mr. Lazarian in a threatening manner and then used it to gesture in the direction he wanted him to go," Osterreicher said.
Tonight NPPA's lawyer in Ferguson said, "And this happened on a relatively calm night. Pointing a lethal weapon at someone without provocation goes far beyond creating a chilling effect on First Amendment rights. It is unfortunate that some officers do not understand or respect the Constitution which they swore to uphold."
NPPA's complaint is addressed to the three different police departments because all three have officers deployed on the scene and it is unclear which department is responsible for the gun-wielding officer. Copies of the letter were also sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.
Osterreicher's request for investigation and complaint also addresses an incident widely seen in video where a St. Ann Police Department officer pointed a semi-automatic assault rifle at a peaceful protester and threatened to kill him. That officer today was suspended from duty for an indefinite period of time.
In the letter Osterreicher also addressed NPPA's complaint over the police practice of ordering members of the press into a press pen holding area while the general public is free to walk the street and protest.
"As a matter of fact another one of our members, Scott Olson was arrested on August 18, 2014 while a few feet outside of the press area. I have been in Ferguson for the past few days and have observed some of this egregious behavior firsthand," Osterreicher said.
"As we have done throughout the country," Osterreicher wrote, "NPPA offers its assistance in working with your department to help develop reasonable and workable policies, practices and especially training in order to alleviate these situations and foster better relations between the police, the public and the press."
(Photograph below: NPPA lawyer Mickey H. Osterreicher on the streets of Ferguson, MO, today. Photograph by David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)