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Cops Continue to Take Heat Over ‘Choking’ Photo

Photojournalist and UMass Boston junior Paul Weiskel snapped the controversial photos at a weekend Tea Party rally.

After photos depicting a Boston police officer with his hand on the neck of a bandana wearing protester made the rounds on the internet yesterday, the protester in the photo is contemplating legal action against the Boston police, according to a report in the Boston Globe.

The protester, who gave the Globe the name “Allie” but did not wish to be identified by gender, said the officer in question was not choking, but pushing him.

“He pushed me,” Allie told the Globe in a telephone interview Monday. “I turned to him and said don’t push me. … Then he got angry. He grabbed me by the neck and then pushed me by the neck. He didn’t choke me.”

Boston police said they are investigating the photo, which was taken by 22-year-old Paul Weiskel, a junior at UMass Boston, who uploaded it and other pictures of the event onto photo-sharing website Flickr.

“We need to review the totality of the circumstances and get a sense of what occurred before and after” the incident, Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said in a statement Monday.

Allie told the Globe the officer’s actions did not seem warranted, and Allie is considering legal action, but did not elaborate, said the Globe report.

Police made three arrests during Sunday’s Tea Party rally at the Boston Common, after a group of counter-protesters, many allegedly affiliated with Occupy Boston, rushed the stage where Tea Party activists—who had secured a legal permit for the event—were speaking.

According to the Globe, Allie indicated that Allie attended the rally to represent gays, lesbians and transgender people.

A description of the events leading up to the photograph, attributed to Allie, was posted on Facebook following the incident and reprinted by Weiskel on his Flickr page.

"I'm holding was a wig I was wearing that a Tea Partier had just knocked off my head. I was asking the tea partier to explain to my why he thought it was okay to knock my wig off ("My hand slipped", he replied sarcastically) when the officer came up and said something along the lines of "okay, take your shit and get out of here" and shoved me a few feet. I turned to him and said "Don't push me". he replied "Don't push you?!" then did this.

You can decide yourself if this was deserved or not." 

Weiskel, who did not see the events leading up to the confrontation, that the officer’s actions did appear a bit heavy-handed.

“I turned around and saw the cop had the guy by the neck,” said Weiskel during a telephone interview, “I don’t know exactly what happened [to provoke the incident]... The cop had the kid by the neck, and then he pushes him and pushes another photographer ...”

First Amendment Under Fire?

But that’s only half the story. According to Weiskel, when the cop—identified by the Globe as decorated officer Vaden Scantlebury, a member of the force since 1983—noticed him taking photos, his attentions immediately turned to Weiskel.

According to Weiskel, the officer approached him and “took two swipes at my camera, knocking it out of my hands.”

The UMass Boston student said it appeared police were only concerned with his camera, and he did nothing to provoke them other than taking pictures.

“He had no grounds for coming at me,” Weiskel said. “I was nowhere near the incident. He didn’t go after me, he went after my camera.”

According to the Globe, neither Scantlebury nor Patrolman’s Association president Thomas Nee could be reached for comment yesterday.

However law enforcement officials, speaking to the Globe on condition of anonymity, characterized Scantlebury as an experienced officer with a reputation for staying calm.

“He’s pretty laid back,” one of the officials told the Globe.

Scantlebury was one of three officers who helped rescue a Dorchester woman from a burning building in 1993. Five years later, Scantlebury was involved in the fatal sooting of a drug dealer. His partner fired the fatal shots as the dealer drove towards the officers, and was later honored with an award for bravery.

Weiskel said he believes Scantlebury was trying to take his camera. He told the Globe he has been in contact with the ACLU regarding possible legal options.

The officer repeatedly told him to step back and twice took the camera from his hand, said Weiskel.

Glik v. Cuniffe

Less than eight months ago in Federal Court, the Boston police lost its appeal of the decision that they violated the First and Fourth Amendment rights of Simon Glik—also on the Common—by denying him the right to “openly videorecord and audiorecord police officers in public,” by placing him under arrest.

The decision stated that citizen journalists—such as Weiskel—and professional journalists have the right to record police in public places such as the Boston Common.

In short, the right to film, photograph and record police in public is a First Amendment issue.

Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll, however, said officials have stressed training officers on the “nuances” of the state’s wiretapping statute, which allows the public to photograph police officers as they work.

“There is a difference between the wire tapping statute and assault,” Driscoll said to the Globe. “They’re getting assaulted by individuals that are holding cellphone cameras half an inch from their face and being told ‘you can’t do anything, you can’t do anything.’”

It remains unclear what that statement has to do with what happened on Sunday, as Weiskel was shooting with a digital camera equipped with a zoom lens, and says he was nowhere near the incident when approached by police.

Certainly photography is not tantamount to felony assault.

The problem with Driscoll’s statement is that it is not the state’s wiretapping statute that guarantees the right of Weiskel to photograph police, but rather the First Amendment of the US Constitution, as upheld by a Federal circuit court judge in Glik v. Cuniffe, et al.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts explains more about the wiretapping statute decision and your First Amendment Rights in this video.

Andrew Jeromski April 18, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Here is a video clip of the events in question. Judge for yourselves. http://privacysos.org/node/584

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