By Tom Burton
Charges against a journalist who was detained and arrested while recording video with his cell phone outside a New York City courtroom have been dismissed, following motions made by the National Press Photographers Association.
Daryl Khan, a reporter for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) was covering the sentencing of Taylonn Murphy, Jr. on June 24, 2016 when court officers confronted him outside the courtroom when they saw him recording video of the defendant’s family.
Officers escorted Khan from the hallway and detained him in a jail cell. The legal motion describes officers intimidating Khan with threats of felony charges if he did not delete the video from his phone and eventually, he complied with the officers. Kahn was still charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
“We are very pleased that the judge agreed with our motion that the allegations against Mr. Khan were “facially insufficient” to support the elements needed to show he was disorderly,” said NPPA General Counsel, Mickey Osterreicher, who made the motion.
“What is almost as disturbing as the violation of Mr. Khan’s constitutional rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, is the fact that the officers coerced him to delete his footage which itself is a form of prior restraint on the press and a violation of the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, a federal statute enacted to protect the unlawful seizure of a journalist’s work product,” Osterreicher said.
Osterreicher said that the relevant subsection of the New York state penal law, a person can be guilty of disorderly conduct when they cause inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, create risk or disturb lawful assembly.
“ In this case Mr. Khan’s intent was to gather and disseminate news on a matter of public concern. The only people apparently inconvenienced, annoyed or alarmed by his mere act of video recording were the court officers which does not satisfy the ‘public order and peace’ component of the statute,” Osterreicher said.
The murder trial was part of the story of violence between rival gangs in New York that Khan had been covering for the JJIE. The judge had ordered additional security for the sentencing and Khan’s story from that day reported that a number of young men were gathered outside the courtroom. Friends from both the murder defendant and the victim were sharing space in the hallway.
A judge’s order had prohibited video recording inside the courtroom, but there was not an order outside the courtroom. Kahn was one of an estimated dozen reporters waiting in the hallway, including journalists from the New York Times and a crew from ABC’s Nightline. Photos and video were made in hallway without any issue for at least 30 minutes before the sentencing hearing started.
Kahn had previously interviewed the defendant's father, Taylonn Murphy, Sr., several times for stories about feuding gangs in Harlem. Murphy’s daughter had been shot and killed in a gang retaliation hit and her brother, Murphy, Jr., had just been sentenced for killing one of the men involved in that shooting.
After the sentencing, Kahn was waiting for the father for an interview. He began recording video on his cell phone, as many reporters do, hoping to get footage of the father to go with his reporting. Court officers confronted him before he could see Murphy, Sr.
The full legal motion can be seen here.