Thursday, February 19, 2009

NYPD PIX THE WRONG GUY


2/18/2009
Former New York Post Photojournalist Rick Dembow was successful in his lawsuit against the City of New York and the NYPD. The City of New York agreed to pay Rick Dembow the sum of $45,000 to drop his lawsuit prior to the beginning of the January 12th trial. The suit stemmed from claims by the well known photographer that two New York City police officers were negligent in their duties causing a permanent injury, false arrest, first amendment rights violations and numerous other charges.

Rick Dembow with 20 years experience on the job with the NY Post and the NY Daily News responded to a routine hit and run incident on a city street in June 2004. The veteran news photographer was attempting to photograph the driver of the vehicle and the victim at the scene. He noticed news photographer Peter Foley being arrested a short distance away for taking pictures of the same accident scene. As Rick Dembow attempted to photograph the arrest of Peter Foley, an officer was instructed to arrest and handcuff Dembow. The unlawful arrest resulted in an emergency room treatment and injury to Dembow due to the inappropriate actions of the officers involved.

Additionally, New York State Workers Compensation Judge Nance Kaplan ruled that the York Post must pay the photographer $20,000 in lost wages due to the assignment injury. The Post initially protested the compensation claiming the photojournalist was a freelancer and not entitled to any benefits. News Corp. sent Photo Editor David Boyle to testify against any compensation, but Judge Kaplan found Boyle’s argument to be not credible and unsupportive. “This is a great day for all the working press photographers and videographers in the city. Any credentialed photographer that is threatened, falsely arrested, deprived of their first amendment rights or injured while on assignment, has every legal right to initiate a lawsuit against the NYPD.”

The NYPD has a long history of media abuse. Officers on the street rarely adhere to the strict guidelines layed out in the Patrolman’s Guide, as as to proper procedure for media incidents. Despite numerous memorandums from the Police Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information notifying the rank and file not to obstruct news photographers while on a news assignment, the guidelines are frequently ignored or never disemminated. Most photographers that have had their rights abused by the NYPD rarely seek legal advice, more than likely due to an unfounded fear that its pointless in fighting the system. This could not be further from the truth. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what fabricated excuse the NYPD uses to interfere with a photographers news gathering rights. It only matters what a jury of your peers feels is just and the reality is, there are not very many reasons at all a police officer has to legally arrest, detain, obstruct, injure or threaten a working press photographer that is not trespassing on his, or her assignment.

The City of New York knows this and ultimately will lose most suits brought against them by any press photographer willing to go the distance. As far as freelancers claims for lost wages and medical reimbursement from their respective papers, there is more good news. The major papers in New York would have their freelancers believe they are not entitled to any benefits beyond their day rate. This also could not be further from the truth. The reality is that if you work 30+ hours weekly for the same publication year in and year out, they give you your assignments, tell you where to go and when to finish, more than likely you have met the New York State criteria for “Dominion and Control,” which puts the responsibility of compensation benefits squarely on your employer. The newspapers love to perpetuate this lie to their freelance staffs that you are not entitled to anything, but more than likely a compensation judge will force them to pay up. It’s the law.

Currently Rick Dembow is the president of Tabloid City Picture Agency, an international celebrity photo agency he formed 8 years ago servicing the tabloid industry. If you’re a credentialed photographer and would like any advice on initiating a claim against the NYPD, or your newspaper for lost wages due to an incident or injury while on assignment, feel free to contact Rick Dembow at: photo@tabloidcity.com
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