The Deadline Club is heartened to learn that the NYPD has returned the photo equipment and press credentials of New York Times freelance photographer Robert Stolarik, who was arrested Aug. 4, 2012, while photographing a disturbance in the Bronx.
But the Club also notes that charges against Stolarik are still pending and renews its call for a swift and rigorous review of the case with an eye toward dismissal of all charges. The Club also calls on the NYPD to provide documentation attesting to its assertions that officers have received specialized training since last fall in press rights in public space. In an e-mail to Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne on Aug. 23, the Club also asked, for a third time, to meet with him and Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly to revisit the training issue they discussed in March and ways to avoid incidents like the Stolarik episode.
Here is the text of the Aug. 23 note to Browne:
Paul, I note that it is being reported that Robert Stolarik received his press credentials back today. I also note reports that the NYPD returned his seized photographic equipment on Aug. 10, an action we requested via a letter I e-mailed you the day before, Aug. 9.
We’re gratified that the NYPD has taken these constructive steps, though the issue of criminal charges appears to remain unresolved. As we did previously, we urge the NYPD to expedite a rigorous review of the legal case against Mr. Stolarik with a strong eye toward dismissal of all charges, as Mr. Stolarik has repeatedly requested, according to public reports.
We also renew our request for all documents attesting to the training the NYPD has conducted in the last year with regard to officers’ understanding and respect for the rights of journalists to work in public space in the City of New York.
We further renew our request for a meeting with you and the Commissioner at the earliest to discuss the training issue, which was central to our discussion in March.
On Aug. 15, you told us via e-mail that “I’m not scheduling a meeting with the Police Commissioner or me to discuss an issue, still unresolved, that is under review by the DCLM [Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters] and the [New York] Times counsel in advance of a November court date.”
We do not think any part of the Stolarik case, resolved or unresolved, is ground for rejecting such a meeting, especially now that Mr. Stolarik has his equipment and credentials back. To my knowledge, no one on the board of the Deadline Club has contacted any other parties working directly on Mr. Stolarik’s behalf, and our correspondence with you on this matter has in no way been coordinated or informed by direct communication with any other party or organization. We do not represent Mr. Stolarik individually and I have no idea whether Mr. Stolarik is even a member of the Deadline Club, and I don’t want to know.
Our interests, as the New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, are forward-looking and go beyond a single incident such as Mr. Stolarik’s arrest, though we believe that its having happened at all graphically underscores the need for ongoing dialogue to avoid repeat occurrences and further deterioration of police-press relations. Our board stands ready to dispatch a delegation to your office as soon as you and the Commissioner consent to see us, which I hope will be no later than next week.
We respectfully await your response.
Mark J. Prendergast
Chair, Police Relations Committee
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Here is the text of the Aug. 9 letter to Browne:
Aug. 9, 2012
Paul J. Browne
Deputy Commissioner/Public Information
New York Police Department
1 Police Plaza
New York, NY 10038
Dear Deputy Commissioner Browne,
On behalf of the Board of the Deadline Club, we write to express deep concern and dismay over a recent incident in the Bronx involving a photojournalist for The New York Times and officers of the NYPD.
As you know, the photojournalist, Robert Stolarik, an experienced news photographer, was arrested on Aug. 4, 2012, while on assignment for The Times covering a street dispute. In addition to interfering with Mr. Stolarik’s right to document the actions of police officers in a public place, the NYPD forcibly took Mr. Stolarik into custody and confiscated his photographic equipment. While Mr. Stolarik was eventually released, his equipment was not, leaving him without the tools of his trade and the means to earn his living. This appears to be extrajudicial punishment and cannot be tolerated or condoned.
The Deadline Club respectfully seeks the following:
* That every item the NYPD took from Mr. Stolarik be returned without delay, with Mr. Stolarik promptly reimbursed in full for any damaged or missing items.
* That the NYPD case against him be expeditiously reviewed and whatever evidence there is that is intended to support the charges against him be subjected to the strictest scrutiny. Numerous public accounts of the incident strongly suggest that a rigorous, impartial review will exonerate Mr. Stolarik and result in the dismissal of all charges, as he has requested publicly. Your own office reportedly acknowledged in a public statement that any physical contact Mr. Stolarik may have had with an officer was “inadvertent.”
* That your office expeditiously provide any and all NYPD records demonstrating that the Department has indeed conducted and is continuing to conduct in-service training for its officers with regard to their conduct toward working journalists. You will recall this training was an assurance that you and the Commissioner offered at our meeting in March. We emphasize that we are not seeking any records identifying any individual or individuals who may or may not have received such training. We merely seek documentary confirmation that this training is a viable reality and Department priority.
* That you and the Commissioner meet with a Deadline Club delegation at your earliest convenience to discuss this incident and revisit the measures being taken to ensure that journalists in New York City can fully exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of or interference from the police. We further ask that the Deadline Club be invited to participate in any multiparty discussions on press-police issues.
The Deadline Club, the New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s oldest and most visible national organization for working newspeople, is committed to serving as a resource and intermediary for both journalists and government authorities in the interests of our mutual constituency, the people. To that end, we respectfully ask you to agree to the above requests.
J. Alex Tarquinio
Mark J. Prendergast
Chair, Police Relations Committee