Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Major Mistake" Free DPD Sued Over Claim of Repeated Civil Rights Violations

Laughter erupted when [DPD deputy chief Ronald H.] Hodge said he didn't "recall that the Durham Police Department has been involved in something where we made major mistakes in the past five years." - Brianne Dopart, The Herald-Sun (June 6, 2007)

"Photographer sues over treatment by Durham police" - Matt Dees, The News & Observer

A freelance photographer has sued the city of Durham and two high-ranking members of its Police Department for allegedly violating his civil rights on numerous occasions.

Julian Harrison filed suit in federal District Court on Friday, alleging that he "has been harassed, assaulted, battered, unjustifiably arrested and falsely charged with crimes," all while performing his role as a journalist.

The suit is seeking actual and punitive damages from the city, Police Chief Steve Chalmers and Capt. Darrell Dowdy, as well as assurances that Harrison no longer will be harassed.


The suit recounts seven instances where Harrison was arrested. He contends he was not trespassing or in any way interfering with the investigation any of the times he was arrested. All of the charges were dismissed.

In 1992, Harrison was arrested on the obscure charge of parking within 100 feet of a police vehicle.

In 1995, Harrison said a Durham police officer tore tendons and severely bruised his left hand while arresting him for "failure to obey a traffic officer."

The injuries took months to heal because of nerve damage Harrison sustained when he was shot while working as a journalist in Central America in the 1980s, the suit said. Harrison went to trial on that charge but was found not guilty.

The latest incident came in November, when Harrison arrived at a Target parking lot where a Durham police officer had just shot two unarmed people accused of stealing prescription drugs.

Dowdy told Harrison not to take pictures of witnesses to the shooting, according to the suit, and Harrison responded, "You are not my picture editor."

This angered Dowdy, the suit alleges. Dowdy grabbed Harrison's arm, slammed him against the hood of his car and cuffed him, according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleges he was slammed with such force it caused $500 in damage to the car.

He was taken to jail, but Magistrate Eric Van Vleet ordered the officers to release Harrison because he had not committed a crime, the suit said.

The officers then had Van Vleet call Dowdy, who tried to persuade the magistrate to jail Harrison, the suit said.

"Magistrate Van Vleet repeated that Mr. Harrison had done nothing wrong, released him and ordered the officers who were present to take Mr. Harrison back to the scene of the shooting and to return his equipment to him within 20 minutes or suffer consequences," the suit said.

The Police Department conducted its own investigation of the Target incident. According to the suit, the inquiry found that Dowdy's actions were "unbecoming an officer" and violated the department's media policies but did not rise to the level of excessive force.

"Inquiry into photographer's assault claim ends "- Matt Dees, The Durham News

Police have completed a probe into allegations that a captain assaulted a journalist in November, but the results haven't been made public.

Julian Harrison, the free-lance photographer who says he was assaulted and wrongfully arrested by Capt. Darrell Dowdy, said he hasn't been told the outcome of the investigation either.

It's unclear whether Harrison or the public ever will learn what the inquiry found.

"I don't expect to ever see anything happen," he said this week.

"Having received no indication that they cared about the fact that one of their captains attacked and assaulted a journalist, I can only assume they're trying to cover up what happened. ...

On Nov. 3, a plainclothes Durham police officer shot two people he was trying to arrest in a Target parking lot.

Harrison sells video and still pictures to local media outlets, usually of crime scenes, so he arrived and began work.

A videotape provided by Harrison shows part of the confrontation with Dowdy. It shows Dowdy striding toward Harrison.

Then the camera cuts off.

In that time, Harrison said, Dowdy asked him not to take pictures of people who witnessed the incident. Harrison said he responded, "You're not my picture editor."

Harrison said that's when Dowdy grabbed his arm to start to cuff him. The camera turns back on at that point and shows Dowdy asking, "Why are you cussing? Why are you cussing?"

The camera's tilting sideways because Harrison had been pushed over the hood of a car.

Harrison responded, shouting, "I didn't cuss. Why are you assaulting me? I didn't do anything."

Harrison said Dowdy was trying to bait him into cussing, which is grounds for a disorderly conduct arrest.

Another officer approached and asked Dowdy, "Is he 10-72?" -- police code for under arrest.

Harrison is heard saying, "I didn't do anything. He came and attacked me."

"Official wants inquiry resolved" - Matt Dees, The Durham News

City Council member Eugene Brown wants the Police Department to speed up its investigation into charges an officer assaulted and wrongfully arrested a freelance photojournalist in November.

"There's no reason why this should take so long," Brown said in a recent interview. "Justice delayed is justice denied."


Officer B.D. Schnee shot Kimberly Anette Mobley and her husband, Mickel Matthew Mobley, on Nov. 4. Schnee said they tried to flee in their truck after attempting to obtain prescription drugs from the Target pharmacy. He fired once, striking both. The couple was treated for injuries and then arrested. The State Bureau of Investigation is still investigating the shooting. Police officials would not comment for this story while the investigation is ongoing.

Harrison, still and video cameras in tow, is a ubiquitous presence at Durham crime scenes.

He said the Target incident is the latest attempt by Durham police to dissuade him from covering crime so doggedly.


Harrison has been arrested 10 times since 1992 on charges such as second-degree trespassing and disorderly conduct, records show -- all related to his crime scene work.

All the charges were dismissed in court, records show.

"I think the record proves I've been harassed and charged with things I shouldn't have been charged with," Harrison said.

"Otherwise, why all those dismissals?"

Harrison, who has worked as a freelancer for The News & Observer, has retained Amanda Martin, a lawyer with the N.C. Press Association.

She said the law gives journalists and any citizen the right to observe and record a crime scene from outside the police tape.

Harrison said he was standing outside the police tape at Target.

"Police have no right to ask anyone not to film a witness," Martin said.

"If a journalist is standing in a place that any other member of the public can be, then the journalist has the right under the First Amendment to record what they can see from that legal place."

Harrison admits he can get "overly excited" at some crime scenes. He showed a News & Observer reporter footage of other incidents this year when officers tried to discourage him from shooting a scene.

Journalists, even pesky ones, must not be harassed, Brown said.

"The journalist may have been annoying to this officer or other officers," he said. "But he has a constitutional right to be annoying.

"To me, this is a very serious matter. This is the sort of thing, if it is true, we cannot tolerate in the Durham Police Department."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel it's appropriate to quote the words of Williamson:

"This should be a reminder to everyone it's the facts that matter. ... It's not the allegations."

With that being said, I personally will not be surprised if these allegations turn out to be true.