Top cop: Drop charges against journalist

Suffolk police held a freelance photographer after officers told him to stop recording them. Handout video (Aug. 1, 2011)

Suffolk County police said Monday they would move to drop the charges against a journalist who was arrested while shooting video of the aftermath of a police chase.

"I am working with the Suffolk County district attorney to have the arrest nullified," Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said in a statement.

The statement came after the Press Club of Long Island called on police and prosecutors to drop all charges against the freelance journalist, Phil Datz, 34, a Valley Stream resident.

The cameraman "was in no way interfering with officers" before he was arrested Friday in Bohemia by Suffolk police, the press club said.

The club issued another statement later praising Dormer "for swiftly determining that news cameraman Phil Datz was improperly arrested."

Officials with the Suffolk County district attorney's office could not be reached for comment Monday.

Datz said he was "very encouraged" to hear the department will likely drop the charges, but said his calls to the police had not been returned Monday.

Datz, who works for Stringer News Service, was charged with a misdemeanor count of obstruction of governmental administration and given a desk appearance ticket requiring him to appear in court next month.

Datz said his footage has been posted on YouTube. It shows a police sergeant from the Fifth Precinct repeatedly ordering Datz to leave the scene while other pedestrians stand nearby.

Police Monday would not release the identity of the sergeant.

Dormer said the department was conducting an internal review of the incident.

"The police department believes in keeping an open line of communication with the media and we will be reviewing the department's policy concerning the involvement with the news media," the Dormer statement said.

"The department will also provide refresher training to all officers regarding the interaction between the news media and department personnel," he said.

The department's written policies on the news media and the public have a presumption that the press and the public are entitled to observe and record police activities.

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