The president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information Tuesday called for New Haven police to train its cops better on dealing with journalists and camera-wielding citizens at crime scenes.
The group’s president, First Amendment attorney Daniel J. Klau, made the remarks during an interview on WNHH radio’s “Legal Eagle” program.
Klau spoke about the Dec. 6 arrest of New Haven Independent reporter David Sepulveda by city police as he photographed two pressure cookers left on a Whalley Avenue sidewalk. (They turned out to be harmless, but at first were believed to be a possible bomb.) City police charged Sepulveda with trespassing and interfering with police; they said he crossed into a cordoned-off area and didn’t immediately respond to shouted requests from a distance to leave the area. Sepulveda denied the charges, saying he entered the scene from an area police had failed to block off; and that he immediately complied with the request to move away.
The New Haven chief of police has ordered an internal investigation into the incident. (Read about that here.)
Klau commended the chief for ordering the investigation: “It’s positive to see the top brass realize ... we need to reexamine how this went down.”
Klau questioned the trespassing charge given that cops had failed to place police tape to block off Fountain Street, where Speulveda entered a block away from the scene. He also questioned why police failed to “use discretion” and instead “ratcheted up” a quick misunderstanding into an arrest, handcuffing Sepulveda and putting him into a police cruiser.
He also said police did not have a right to take Sepulveda’s camera and walk around with it, finally asking to obtain the memory card while he remained in handcuffs. He said police have a right to put an arrestee’s belongings to the side, in a cruiser trunk, during detention, but not to walk around with the camera without a warrant.
“The training is absolutely key here,” Klau argued. He said he hopes this episode will “encourage” New Haven police to do a better job of training officers in how to deal with members of the public, including journalists, who have a camera.”
The Hartford Courant published an editorial today entitled: “New Haven Police Must Stop Seizing Cameras.”
Click on or download the above audio file to hear the full interview with Klau on WNHH radio’s “Legal Eagle” program> The discussion included legal issues confronting incoming President-Elect Donald Trump.