Court Orders Ferguson Police To Not Interfere With Photographing Or Recording In Public

DURHAM, NC (November 21, 2014) – Today a federal judge for the Eastern District of Missouri granted three orders agreed and consented to by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of St. Louis Missouri, and the City of Ferguson [Links are to the court orders]. The orders signed by Judge John A. Ross for the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the County of St. Louis enjoins those entities from “interfering with individuals who are photographing or recording at public places but who are not threatening the safety of others or physically interfering with the ability of law enforcement to perform their duties.”

NPPA had filed a declaration in the case that the American Civil Liberties Union brought seeking a declaratory action and temporary injunction against police in Ferguson from interfering with photographers.

The order directed at the City of Ferguson more specifically prohibits the city from enforcing or threatening to enforce “any rule, policy or practice that grants law enforcement officers the authority or discretion to arrest, threaten to arrest, or interfere with any individual, including any member of the media or member of the public photographing or recording in public places unless that person is threatening the safety of others or physically interfering with the ability of law enforcement to perform their duties.”

The fact that the orders protect photographers who are not “physically” interfering with law enforcement prevents agencies from claiming that the act of reporting is in itself threatening or otherwise an interference. 

"Journalists and law enforcement officials share a common responsibility: we all serve the public. Raising the awareness of law enforcement personnel about these matters after the fact only means that journalists were prevented from doing their jobs, and because of that the public was not properly served,” NPPA president Mark J. Dolan said today.

In August the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court against police agencies in Ferguson on behalf of photographer Mustafa Hussein. The complaint sought a preliminary injunction against police policies of demanding and ordering members of the media and public to stop recording the police acting in their official duty on public streets and sidewalks. It also sought to have the court declare that the police policy on its face and as-applied violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by chilling free speech without due process.

In support of that lawsuit, NPPA filed a declaration outlining some of the issues faced by visual journalists as well as how NPPA’s general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher, tried to deal with those situations while he was in Ferguson this summer. The bigger issues were the fact that police tried to keep the media in areas they had established rather than allow  access to traditionally open public forums such as sidewalks. 

NPPA executive director Chip Deale added, "We are pleased that the court again has recognized and emphasized the important and Constitutionally-protected right of visual journalists to perform their critical news-gathering function free of harassment and undue restrictions. NPPA hopes and trusts that law enforcement agencies in and around Ferguson will unerringly abide by these court orders."

NPPA general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher suggests that journalists who may be covering Ferguson in the coming days print out and carry the orders to show police, who may be in contempt of the court. 

“While it is gratifying that the police agencies agreed to these self-evident liberties it is still troublesome that they have apparently failed to provide any substantive training regarding constitutional rights," Osterreicher said today. "As we have seen time and time again without proper training police frequently disregard the Bill of Rights and any enforcement orders as just another piece of paper."

The orders resolves the case, but the federal court specifically retains jurisdiction to enforce the injunctions.