A New York City photojournalist was detained, taken to the precinct and stripped of his NYPD-issued credentials after photographing a sergeant during a fire at a housing complex in the Bronx Sunday night.
David Torres also suspects police of stealing $100 from his wallet before releasing him with a summons for disorderly conduct.
He is unable to decipher the name of the sergeant from the name tag in his photo and unable to decipher the signature on his summons, but the sergeant’s photo is above.
Torress, 54, is a freelance photojournalist who rides his bicycle to cover breaking news in the five boroughs, selling his photos to newspapers and news stations, posting photos regularly on Twitter on his nocturnal adventures.
He said he’s been shooting professionally for 30 years and has never been detained or arrested until last night.
Today, he plans to send the following letter to the department’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information:
On, August 16th 2015, at approximately 9:23pm, I arrived at the scene of a fire at a housing complex at 350 East 137th Street; confines of the 40th Precinct and PSA 7 housing area. After arriving at the scene, I looked for a safe area to stand in and I began to take photos. Shortly thereafter, a sergeant approaches me and he questions me on who I am affiliated with and I told him I was independent. He then stated I was in the way and I needed to move to an area that would put approximately 20 to 30 feet from where I was presently standing. I then immediately pointed out that there were civilians also standing where I was and why was I being singled out and harassed to move. He then kept stating it was safety issue and I was in the way of the firemen.
With a little sarcasm from me, I proceeded to stand at a more distant location. Since I felt I was being harassed, I decided to focus my attention on the sergeant that was harassing me. I took his photograph and about 5 minutes later he returned to me and he questioned me as to why I was being so hostile. I was not being hostile, I was being sarcastic. He then asked why I was taking a picture of him and explained to him that I was allowed to take a picture of whatever I want because I was at a public area. He then became upset and he stated, “That’s it, I want your ID card and your press pass” that we were going to the station house for further investigation and that right now I was being detained until his supervisor arrived. I then, questioned him on detaining me and advised him if I was not under arrest, I should be able to freely walk around. But, he had 4 officers stand around me to prevent me from going anywhere.
A short time later, a supervisor in a white shirt, it may have been a lieutenant or another unknown rank from PSA 7, arrived at the scene and I guess the decision was to transport me to the PSA 7 station house. And, to notify DCPI about the confiscation of my press credentials and to conduct a background check on my identity. We proceeded to walk to my bicycle, because I explained to them that I have an extremely expensive bicycle with a lot of sensitive electronic components on it. They then told me they would take care of it and it would transported in a police van. I stood there and watched them load my bike in to a van, breaking the GPS antenna on it. When I pointed that out to them, they said “no, the antenna is fine”, when in fact they just broke it. After a short ride, we arrived at PSA 7 station house, and I waited approximately 2 hours for the process to be completed and I was issued a desk appearance ticket for disorderly conduct. My press credentials was confiscated. They handed me back my camera, my wallet, and my bicycle back to my possession and escorted me out the station house.
While in front of the station house, I looked through my wallet and I noticed $100 cash missing. I had gone to the ATM earlier and withdrew $140 and all that remained in my wallet was $34. As I’m getting my things together outside the precinct, along the sidewalk, several officers began to hassle me again, instructing me to move because I was blocking the sidewalk. This encounter I have on video because my helmet cam was recording at this time. I then explained to the officers that I was trying to get my items together and I explained to them that I am being harassed for no reason. At that point, I saw the same high ranking supervisor standing in front of the station house with the other officers. I turned to him and attempted to inform him that there was $100 missing from my wallet. His reply was, “I do not care and what do you think his fare chances are being a white cop in the Bronx in the media”. I could not believe his reply, but I left it at that. I then proceeded to coast along the sidewalk and I was yelled at, “No riding along the sidewalk”. I explained to them that there were barriers preventing me from entering the street. I then proceeded to walk my bike around the barriers into the street and proceeded home.
I have been covering spot news for close to 30 years in NYC. I have never encountered anything like this. I’ve always used my professional judgement on where to stand to get the photos I need. I can say that for the past year, I have been harassed a few times at some high profile news events, but nothing like what I experienced at this fire scene. I would like to point out that I am head of security at a large hotel in Manhattan and I am also one of the Fire Directors. So, if it is about fire safety, I know about it firsthand. The sergeant was stressing that I had been standing at restricted area and that my press pass did not allow me to stand at that area, and my reply to that was, there was over 20 civilians standing where I was. That’s what led to my sarcasm of his instructions and me going to the station house and getting a summons. At no way, was I remotely interfering with fire fighters or public safety. He is lodging false accusations against me. At no point, was I ever hostile. I may have had a lot of sarcasm, but I was never hostile. I do have video that recorded part of this encounter and along with this email, I am sending you 4 photographs that I was able to take. One of them, was of the sergeant himself. I would like to stress that I have done nothing wrong and I am really sorry that it had to come to this. I am requesting the return of my press credentials that I may continue to with my independent work as a photo journalist.
While the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press for all citizens, the NYPD has created a system where it requires reporters covering breaking news to have credentials issued only by them.
But in reality, the press passes don’t offer the photographers any more rights than anybody else. However, they do allow photographers to cross police lines if escorted by police, but that is not guaranteed.
And the NYPD has been known to strip press passes away from photojournalist they don’t like and arrest, including one shooting for the New York Times a few years ago.