NYPD: Officer who obstructed ‘Times’ photographer during O.W.S. protest got a reprimand

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Robert Stolarik confronts an NYPD officer during a protest last year. ()
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The New York Police Department reprimanded an officer and a sergeant who obstructed journalists covering Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, according to Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.

One of the incidents involved New York Times photographer Robert Stolarik, who was documenting an arrest at the World Financial Center back in December when an officer repeatedly stood in front of his camera, attempting to block his shots. The altercation was caught on video and went viral after it was uploaded to YouTube, intensifying a months-long standoff between police and the press.

Browne confirmed the reprimands on Wednesday in an emailed letter to George Freeman, assistant general counsel for The New York Times, in response to a letter Freeman had sent him earlier in the afternoon on behalf of 13 New York-based news organizations. That letter was a follow-up to yet another letter, sent back in November, in which the news organizations first banded together to complain about police treatment of the press during the Occupy Wall Street protests. The NYPD responded by reinforcing its protocol on how police should interact with the media during events such as protests, but isolated incidents of obstruction persisted and the news organizations continued to agitate.

In Browne's note to Freeman, which the deputy comissioner showed to Capital, he also responded to a request for more information on the NYPD's media guidelines training, which was given to 1,600 officers who graduated from the police academy in December, according to Browne. More than 100 sergeants were trained on Jan. 10, as well as 60 newly promoted sergeants on Jan. 26, he wrote.

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Reached by phone early Wednesday evening, Freeman declined to comment.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association and one of Freeman's co-signatories, said, "I appreciate the fact that they responded as quickly as they did. But much of what they've responded to we've been waiting for an answer to for months."

You can read Browne's full response to Freeman below:

George,

Now that I have read your letter, I can tell you the officer and the sergeant in the two situations at the Winter Garden in the World Financial Center, including the one Colin described, have been reprimanded. Deputy Inspector Kim Royster personally investigated and Lt. Gene Whyte contacted Mickey with the results in the instance that he had raised regarding the Thanksgiving Parade, which did not result in a reprimand. Officers could not be identified in an a separate, post-parade incident on Thanksgiving that Mickey also raised.

The 1,600 officers who graduated in December received training on the media guidelines specifically, that, as you may recall, Commissioner Kelly re-issued department-wide last November as a reminder to all personnel . They included specifics on trespass and how there are special requirements regarding the media. The additional 900 recruits who were inducted into the Police Academy last month will receive instruction of the guidelines, as well. On January 10th, Deputy Inspector Royster instructed over 100 training sergeants on media, which also reinforced the guidelines. The training sergeants, in turn, provided in-service training to police personnel at all precincts at other commands, including housing and transit. In addition, Deputy Inspector Royster trained over 60 newly promoted sergeants on Thursday, January 26, again emphasizing the guideline requirements. She also similarly trained approximately 200 in-service investigators of various ranks who are enrolled in the NYPD homicide course. Additionally, hundreds of more officers of various ranks in the department’s Community Affairs Bureau are slated to receive the in-service training in coming weeks. I addressed the borough task force commanders on December 20th as I indicated to you I would, with all of borough task force members in attendance, as well as other senior executives. I emphasized 1st Amendment protections, guideline requirements, and addressed specific scenarios. For example, periodically, we receive complaints that an officer may try to deter a photographer, even one positioned outside of the crime scene, from taking the photograph of a dead body before it has been covered. I’ve used this as an example where subject matter is the photographer’s concern, not the officer’s. The message was well received, no objections were voiced, and the commanders said they would do their best to see that policy is adhered to in the field. I’ll send you training material under separate cover.

Paul