Maryland jury slaps police on wrist in journalist abuse suit
A Maryland jury believed police used excessive force against a reporter by ordering her out of her car at gunpoint and injuring her shoulder during a “felony traffic stop” outside Washington D.C. four years ago.
But during last week’s verdict, the jury also believed Prince George’s County police were acting “appropriately” when they used nine police cars to make the traffic stop against WJLA-TV reporter Andrea McCarren, ordering her and TV cameraman Pete Hakel out of the car with guns pointed at them.
After all, the jury was convinced that the act of following a police car with a TV cameraman in tow – with the intent of proving possible misuse of county government resources – constituted a “high risk” stop. More like a high risk news segment.
Back at the station, news managers heard the calls on the scanner.
Police were stopping a vehicle because it was “suspicious in nature,” and because there was someone videotaping them!
“Every single call referred to a photographer videotaping or a camera in the back,” she says.
Regardless, that is why McCarren was awarded only $5,000 instead of the $500,000 she was asking for, even though she had to go through surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, torn labrum and detached biceps tendon.
The jury was apparently blind to the fact that police were either lying or violating federal regulations when they claimed that not one of the nine dash cameras on their squad cars were functioning at the time, which is why they were unable to provide video evidence from the scene.
The only video evidence comes from Hakel’s camera, which shows the two journalists being ordered out of the car at gunpoint before they walk off frame.
Hakel kept rolling even as he was ordered — at gunpoint — out of the vehicle. He held the camera at his side, and police yelled at him to “drop the camera — now!”
He put it on the ground, but pointed it toward the officer who was directing him. When the officer realized the camera was still on him, he motioned to another officer who turned it away. Another one picked up the camera and threw it into the back seat of the car.
Both were eventually released with no charges against them but a clear message was sent to the reporters; a warning that they must tread carefully if investigating police and county officials for improprieties.
After all, the only reason they were following the unmarked police car in the first place was to determine if Prince George’s County Chief Administrator Officer Jacqueline Brown was misusing county funds by assigning herself her own police protection; an officer named Cpl. Danon Ashton who was not only suspected of being her personal chauffeur, driving her to dinner parties and shopping sprees, but also her personal servant by washing her car.
The day of the incident, April 15, 2005, the reporters followed Ashton as he picked up Brown at her home. But then Ashton noticed he was being followed and called for back-up, which lead to the swarm of officers to conduct the “felony traffic stop” (remember, they were released with no charges against them).
A month later, McCarren, wearing a cast on her arm, reported that Ashton was receiving more than $20,000 a year in overtime from serving as Brown’s personal police officer. She also reported that Brown was the only high-ranking official in the Washington DC area with her own personal police officer, as you will see in the video below.
Gives to meaning to the term “to protect and to serve.”
I am a multimedia journalist who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle after having photographed Miami police against their wishes in Feb. 2007. Please help the fight by donating to my Legal Defense Fund in the top left sidebar.
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