Suffolk County Settles First Amendment Filming Arrest Suit

A photographer who was arrested by a Suffolk County Police Sergeant in 2011 because he was filming police activity has agreed to accept $200,000 to settle his civil rights suit.

Phillip Datz, a freelance videographer, was arrested in July, 2011 by Suffolk County Police Sergeant Michael Milton. Milton observed Datz filming at an incident scene and ordered him to leave despite the fact the he was displaying his press credentials and other bystanders were not asked to leave. In addition no police lines had been established.

Datz complied with the Milton’s order and drove about a block away where he resumed filming. Upon seeing Datz filming, Milton placed Datz under arrest for obstruction of governmental administration, and seized his camera and videotape.

The charges against Datz were dropped, and he filed suit in federal court alleging violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights as well as a violation of the Privacy Protection Act of 1980.

The $200,000 settlement also calls for the implementation of a new training program for Suffolk County police officers and the creation of a Police-Media Relations Committee.

Our good friend Mickey H. Osterreicher, General Counsel for the National Press Photographers Association said in a press release:

  • “The National Press Photographers Association commends Suffolk County for working with Phil Datz and his counsel in order to turn a far too commonplace First Amendment violation into a constructive resolution of the case”
  • “The real challenge now will be to ensure the ongoing training of SCPD officers in order for Suffolk County to be a positive role model for other law enforcement agencies. The NPPA is also extremely appreciative of the tenacious advocacy by Rob Balin, Alison Schary and Sam Bayard of the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine who worked tirelessly on Phil’s behalf. And finally our thanks go to Phil Datz for not only having to endure the abridgment of his civil rights but for his willingness to stand up for his rights and the rights of others.”

Mickey is a true First Amendment Champion!!!!

Here is the NPPA’s press release.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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