New Jersey police seized two cameras from a photojournalist last week after he had photographed a crime scene from outside the perimeter established by the crime tape.
The Paterson police officers first demanded that Mitsu Yasukawa delete the photos he had taken for The Record newspaper because he may have photographed a witness.
Yasukawa told the cops he needed to call his editors, but during the call, the cops seized his two cameras.
The two cameras were later returned to the newspaper by the Passaic County prosecutor’s office.
No word yet on whether the cops will be disciplined.
Jon Naso, the director of photography for the newspaper, said that during that call he spoke with a detective at the scene and also with the detective’s supervisor, Capt. Heriberto Rodriguez. The detective told Naso that police believed Yasukawa had photographed a witness, and the captain demanded that he surrender the camera and delete the photos, Naso said.
The conversation became heated, with police threatening to take the cameras, Naso said. The telephone call was disconnected, and when Naso was able to reach the photographer again, he learned police had taken two camera bodies along with their data cards containing all the images the photographer had shot, Naso said.
Michael DeMarco, the Passaic County chief assistant prosecutor, later agreed to return the equipment, with the data cards intact and unreviewed. They were delivered to the newspaper’s headquarters in Woodland Park shortly before 5 p.m.
Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale declined to comment on the specifics of the incident.
“In most situations, the officer would say, ‘Can I get your contact information, and would you please make sure to preserve any images, and I will get a subpoena later,’” said Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.
Osterreicher also said the police had no justification for demanding that the images be deleted or for confiscating the cameras. “To demand the deletion of images is impermissible prior restraint, and they cannot do that.”
For anyone new to PINAC or the right the record, there is no expectation of privacy in a public place, and photographers — both those working for media organizations and private citizens — are free to record anything they see.
Trained police officers, especially in the wake of the crisis across America in the last several months, should know this law as well as anyone. A police officer in 2015 has no excuse for grabbing a person’s camera in public, and should face criminal charges ranging from assault and battery to armed robbery.
Interestingly, The Record did not post any of the photos in its story about the camera seizure.