RTDNA's Voice of the First Amendment Task Force today joined the protest by the New York State Associated Press Association of this week’s detention of a journalist who was handcuffed merely for taking photographs of the aftermath of a brawl in a Syracuse, N.Y., courthouse.
On Wednesday, Douglas Dowty, a courts reporter for Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard, was using his smartphone to take pictures of the arrest of a man who’d just been involved in an altercation in a public hallway of the Onondaga County Courthouse, outside a courtroom where a murder trial was taking place. A court security officer confiscated Dowty’s phone, handcuffed him, and detained him for several minutes until other officers released him and returned his property.
Courts in New York State are governed by the Office of Court Administration in New York City, which, Syracuse.com reported, was investigating the incident. The Onondaga County Courthouse prohibits members of the general public from taking photographs in the building, but allows journalists to do so.
“On first blush, this appears to have been a simple misunderstanding that was quickly rectified. However, journalists should never be detained by law enforcement simply for carrying out their Constitutionally-guaranteed duty to gather and report the facts to the public,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Incoming Executive Director, who spearheads the task force. “Furthermore, neither members of the public nor journalists should be prohibited from taking photographs in the public hallways of public buildings. Period.”
On Thursday evening, the New York State Associated Press Association sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) protesting Dowty’s detention and the Office of Court Administration’s ban on the public’s right to take photographs in public areas of courthouses. (See the letter below.) RTDNA stands with the NYSAPA in its protest and its calls for courthouse administrative reform in New York State.