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Photography Student Arrested for Taking Pictures of Police Officers

Philadelphia police officers are being accused of ignoring the First Amendment after a student photographer spent a night in jail for taking pictures of them.

On March 14, Ian Van Kuyk was arrested in a public location while photographing police making a routine traffic stop. Van Kuyk alleges the police arrest constituted a violation of his First Amendment rights.

Van Kuyk, who was fulfilling a photography course assignment from Temple University, claims he was shoved by police who noticed him taking pictures. According to Van Kuyk, when he didn’t stop, they threw him to the ground and arrested him.

Van Kuyk alleges that prior to the altercation, the arresting officer made the comment “Public domain, yeah we’ve heard that before!”

“It’s not illegal to take photos in a public place,” said Mickey Osterreicher, an early legal advisor to the student. “So they always charge someone with something other than that. It’s disingenuous to say he wasn’t arrested for photographing the police.”

Though the Philadelphia police department could not be reached for comment, the Associated Press reports that Lt. Raymond Evers denies wrongdoing on behalf of the officers involved.

“It’s very clear the officers were aware of their First Amendment rights to take photos,” Evers said, according to AP, citing a police report. He later added, “Other things happened that caused them to be arrested.”

Since then, the police department has launched an internal investigation into the matter with no findings made public yet.

Van Kuyk’s girlfriend was also arrested during the incident when she tried to recover the camera he was using, which was property of Temple University. She and Van Kuyk were both charged with obstruction and disorderly conduct. Van Kuyk received the additional charge of resisting arrest.

Van Kuyk could not be reached for comment.

Van Kuyk was released after one night in jail and faces an ongoing legal battle. According to the AP, his girlfriend opted into a community service program that could allow her to expunge her record.

“This is not just about journalists,” Andrew Mendelson , the university’s journalism department chairman, said to the AP. “This is about all citizens.”

According to Osterreicher, Mendelson asked him to get involved in the case because he believed it could set a dangerous precedent in permitting the abuse of free speech.

“I deal with these issues around the country on an almost daily basis,” Osterreicher said. “If you’re out in public, you can take pictures of anything you can observe. As long as you’re not physically interfering with an officer doing his job, you can take all the photos you want.”

Fix Contributor Ian Hanner is a student at Palomar College.

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