PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia police violated a college student's First Amendment rights by arresting him as he took photos of a traffic stop outside his house, a journalism advocacy group said Monday.
Temple University photojournalism student Ian Van Kuyk has been charged with obstruction, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct in a case described as "a miscarriage of justice" by a lawyer for the National Press Photographers Association.
"He was just taking pictures, as is his right, (as is) every citizen's right," attorney Mickey Osterreicher said Monday.
Police Lt. Raymond Evers said Van Kuyk and his girlfriend were arrested for other offenses, not for taking pictures.
"It's very clear the officers were aware of their First Amendment rights to take photos," Evers said, citing a police report. He later added, "Other things happened that caused them to be arrested."
Evers said that the department is investigating internally and that he could not release further details about the case, nor the police report on the March 14 arrest.
Osterreicher laid out the student's version of events in a written complaint to police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Van Kuyk was sitting on his front steps in the city's Point Breeze section when police pulled over a vehicle. The student began taking pictures to fulfill a course assignment for shooting at night. He was not using a flash and obeyed one police command to move back, Osterreicher said.
But officers then asked Van Kuyk to stop taking photos. When the student asserted his right to use the camera on public street, one officer reportedly said: "Public domain, yeah we've heard that before!" Police allegedly pushed, shoved and threw Van Kuyk to the ground before handcuffing him.
His girlfriend also was caught up in the scuffle as she tried to rescue Van Kuyk's camera, which belongs to Temple University. She was charged with obstruction and disorderly conduct; court records indicate she entered a community service program that could eventually allow her record to be expunged.
Police eventually returned the camera with the traffic stop images still on the memory card, according to Temple professor Edward Trayes, who teaches the course for which Van Kuyk was shooting.
Andrew Mendelson, chairman of the university's journalism department, said he asked Osterreicher to get involved because the student's arrest could have a chilling effect on free speech.
"This is not just about journalists," Mendelson said. "This is about all citizens."
Van Kuyk did not immediately return a request for comment. His next court date is April 16.