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As a prosecutor, Gerald Cohen would frequently come across police officers willing to stretch the truth to gain a conviction.
“We saw that a little too often,” said the man who spent three years working for the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office before he opened a private practice.
“We would ask them what happened and they would give us a story that was full of holes and when we pointed that out to them, they would tell us, ‘well, what do you want me to say?’.”
“I would tell them, ‘I want you to tell me the truth’.”
And if the truth was not enough to support a conviction, then he would be forced to dismiss the case.
“They would always get upset with us,” he said.
Today, he is a partner in a Manhattan law firm with Joshua Fitch, another attorney who spent three years working in the same D.A.’s office and had the same approach to the law.
As Cohen & Fitch LLC, they specialize in police misconduct cases, including photographers who end up getting arrested.
Cohen represented Duane Kerzic of Amtrak fame as well as another photographer who had been arrested by Amtrak police a year earlier.
And he is also representing Robert Taylor who was arrested in February for taking photos inside a subway station and charged with “unauthorized photography” among other things. The New York Civil Liberties Union has taken on Taylor’s criminal case pro bono and Cohen is taking on his civil suit against the New York Police Department.
“When you hear about a photographer who gets arrested for pursuing a hobby or a livelihood, it really strikes a chord because we live in a society where we should be free to express ourselves,” he said.
“And when they make you delete your photos, the implications are alarming because once the government tells you what you can and can’t photograph, they are controlling information.”
In hearing him speak, it is obvious Cohen has the same passion about the First Amendment as we do.
“Photography is one of the fundamental tools of a free society,” he said.
“In an event where there are conflicting statements, a video or picture serves as an objective truth.”
In other words, without cameras, it becomes all too easy for officers to ask prosecutors, “what do you want me to say?”
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I am a multimedia journalist who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle after having photographed Miami police against their wishes in Feb. 2007. Please help the fight by donating to my Legal Defense Fund in the top left sidebar, which helps pay for the thousands of dollars I’ve acrued in debt since my arrest. To keep updated on the latest articles, join my networks at Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed.