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Video journalist says Suffolk settlement affirms rights of news media

Suffolk County's decision to settle a video journalist's lawsuit after his 2011 arrest by a police sergeant affirmed the rights of the news media and anyone else to record police in public places, the Valley Stream man and his attorneys said Wednesday.

"This settlement strengthens the ability of journalists and the community to hold the police accountable for their actions as well as protecting the First Amendment rights of the public," freelance journalist Philip Datz said in a statement at federal court in Central Islip.

Datz was accompanied by attorneys from the Manhattan law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, the National Press Photographers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The county will pay him $200,000 as part of the settlement approved by Suffolk legislators at their Tuesday meeting. The agreement requires Suffolk police officers get annual training about the First Amendment rights of journalists and bystanders at public police activity. It also creates a committee of police brass and journalists to resolve future problems.

Datz was arrested in Bohemia as he taped officers after a police chase. On the video, Suffolk Police Sgt. Michael Milton orders Datz to leave. Later, Milton forces Datz to stop taping and arrests him.

Datz was charged with obstruction of governmental administration, a misdemeanor. The charge was later dropped by the Suffolk district attorney's office.

A police investigation found that Milton acted inappropriately, according to court documents. He was ordered to forfeit 30 days of accrued time, with 10 restored if he had no more problems.

Milton's attorney, Brian Davis, said his client was not acting "maliciously," but he declined to comment further.

Suffolk spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the settlement "underscores the pivotal role the media serves for the police department and the public."

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