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NYPD sued for arresting subway photographers

Posted by Gold_12TH on Tue Nov 22 15:21:51 2011

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Nov 22 (Reuters) - The New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of two train enthusiasts who were arrested for taking pictures of subway cars, a civil-rights group alleged in a suit filed last week in federal court in Brooklyn.

The New York Civil Liberties Union argued that no law prohibits photography in the subway system, and asked a judge to throw out a Metropolitan Transit Authority rule requiring passengers to provide "information or documents" to police officers when asked.

Steve Barry and Michael Burkhart, both of New Jersey, traveled to New York in August 2010 to photograph the running of one of the New York Transit Museum's vintage subway cars, according to the complaint. While they were taking pictures of modern trains at the Broad Channel stop in Brooklyn, a police officer approached them and told them they could not take pictures, the suit said. When they protested, the officer demanded to see identification. Burkhart showed the officer his driver's license, but Barry refused, offering only his name and address.

Both men were detained for half an hour, with Barry in handcuffs, and charged with taking "unauthorized" photos. All charges were later dismissed.

"Taking pictures of a subway train is not a crime. It's disheartening to think that we're not the first people to be arrested for this and that it could happen again to anyone," Burkhart said in a statement.

The suit claims the officer's actions, including demanding identification and cuffing Barry, violated the First and Fourth Amendments. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.

MTA RULE VIOLATES FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT: PLAINTIFFS

No state or city law prohibits photography in subway stations. An MTA rule explicitly permits it, though "ancillary equipment" such as tripods and lights are prohibited. The men were ticketed for violating that rule. Barry was also cited for failing to provide identification.

The NYCLU also says an MTA rule requiring passengers to "provide accurate, complete and true information or documents" to police officers and MTA personnel is not only vague, but violates the Fourteenth Amendment by forcing people to carry identification.

"Our concern is that the cops are construing the rule as requiring ID," said Christopher Dunn, the NYCLU attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Spokespersons for the MTA and the New York City Law Department declined to comment. An NYPD spokesman declined to comment.

A hearing date has not been set.

The case is Ernest Steve Barry and Michael Burkhart v. New York City, et al, United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. cv11-5533.

For plaintiffs: Christopher Dunn and Arthur Eisenberg of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

For defendants: Not available.

(Reporting by Dan Wiessner)

Follow us on Twitter: @ReutersLegal

---- http://newsandinsight.thomsonreuters.com/New_York/News/2011/11_-_November/NYPD_sued_for_arresting_subway_photographers/

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