An NYPD cop who arrested a New York Times photographer, accusing him of interfering with an investigation by blinding him with his flash, was convicted today on a felony count of falsifying records.
It turned out, Robert Stolarik’s camera did not even have a built-in flash. Nor did he have an external flash on him when arrested.
Not that it would have been illegal.
Nevertheless, New York City police officer Michael Ackermann swore in his arrest report that Stolarik’s repeated use of his flash ended up “blinding him and preventing him from performing his duties.”
He also claimed that Stolarik “violently resisted being handcuffed,” even cutting another officer in the hand during the struggle.
The NYPD also released a statement claiming that Stolarik used his camera to “inadvertently” strike an officer in the face.
The way they described it, Stolarik was an out-of-control madman, using his flash to blind officers before striking them with his camera – just the type of behavior you would expect from a veteran photojournalist with more than two decades of experience.
The truth is, it was the officers who were violent with Stolarik as reported by the New York Times on August 5, 2012, the day after his arrest.
The photographer, Robert Stolarik, 43, who has worked regularly for The Times for more than a decade, was charged with obstructing government administration and with resisting arrest. He was taking photographs of a brewing street fight at McClellan Street and Sheridan Avenue in the Concourse neighborhood.
Mr. Stolarik was taking photographs of the arrest of a teenage girl about 10:30 p.m., when a police officer instructed him to stop doing so. Mr. Stolarik said he identified himself as a journalist for The Times and continued taking pictures. A second officer appeared, grabbed his camera and “slammed” it into his face, he said.
Mr. Stolarik said he asked for the officers’ badge numbers, and the officers then took his cameras and dragged him to the ground; he said that he was kicked in the back and that he received scrapes and bruises to his arms, legs and face.
The Police Department said in a statement that officers had been trying to disperse the crowd and had given “numerous lawful orders” for both the crowd and Mr. Stolarik to move back, but that he tried to push forward, “inadvertently” striking an officer in the face with his camera.
The police said that Mr. Stolarik then “violently resisted being handcuffed” and that, in the process, a second officer was cut on the hand. A video of the episode taken by one of the reporters who was with Mr. Stolarik shows Mr. Stolarik face down on the sidewalk, beneath a huddle of about six officers.
Stolarik ended up spending a night in jail on charges of obstructing government administration and resisting arrest, the usual contempt-of-cop charges issued by NYPD.
Now it’s Ackermann who is facing four years in prison after today’s conviction in a bench trial. He will be sentenced on December 2.
During the trial, Ackermann claimed he made an honest mistake when he lied about Stolarik’s use of the flash.
“I keep going over it and trying to figure out how I could have made that big of a mistake,” he testified, according to the New York Daily News.
What he really meant to say is that he was unable to figure out why the Bronx District Attorney would file charges on him when filing false reports is an everyday occurrence for the NYPD and is usually ignored by prosecutors.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom today, Stolarik pointed out the irony in the outcome.
According to Gothamist:
“I’m overwhelmed, and I’m emotional,” and added that the “DA took this case very seriously. Justice has been served. He was comfortable sending me to prison to ruin my career and I think that turned around on him, he was charged with a felony and it ruined his career.”
Ackermann’s career is definitely over. At least with the NYPD, even though he is still officially a cop. He might as well go into fiction writing considering he has a knack for it.
But it would still be surprising if he spends a day in jail. Cops rarely serve time for the crimes they commit, even the ones who commit sexual abuse.
The incident took place on August 4, 2012 as Stolarik was covering the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk routine and came across a group of officers attempting to arrest a 15-year-old girl.
One cop placed her hand in front of his lens to prevent him from shooting. When he showed her his credentials – not that it should matter in public – another cop walked up and shoved the camera into his face.
When he demanded names and badge numbers, several cops pounced on him and began beating and kicking him.
The video recorded by another New York Times reporter that shows him laying underneath a pile of cops apparently has not been released to the public, but we will post it if it is ever released.
After spending the night in jail, it took another three weeks for them to return his camera gear, which included a Nikon D4, as well as his NYPD-issued press credentials, making it impossible for him to continue working during that time.
The National Press Photographers Association, specifically General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher, was instrumental in getting the NYPD to return his items as well as having Ackermann investigated by both the district attorney and internal affairs.
This is what Osterreicher had to say in a statement emailed to Photography is Not a Crime:
I am very pleased to see that justice has been served by the verdict in this case. Robert Stolarik should have never been arrested for exercising his constitutional rights as a journalist to cover a story of great public concern. Credit goes to Robert for standing up for his rights and the rights of all of us. I also commend the Bronx District Attorney and ADA Jacoub Pishoy for prosecuting this case. I also think we should acknowledge that the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) took this case very seriously from the start and helped provide some of the evidence needed to obtain this conviction. I hope it will send a clear message to police officers to stop interfering, harassing and arresting citizens and journalists for doing nothing more than photographing or recording on public streets.
We also hope this sends a clear message to the NYPD and the rest of the cops in this country who have long become accustomed to falsifying charges, not only against photographers, but against anybody who dares question their authority – including the ones we wrote about earlier today.
That is why we hope Ackermann serves jail time for his conviction. He is guilty and it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, even though he is likely to appeal.
And chances are, he has had other people falsely convicted who did not have the advantage of having powerful organizations in their corner.
Now that the tables are turned, he needs to get a full taste of what innocent people go through on a daily basis.
After all, he had no qualms about destroying a man’s life.