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Philip Datz case settled for $200G; photojournalist's First Amendment lawsuit against Suffolk police

The public and the media cannot be restricted from filming in areas open to the public, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of a freelance photojournalist who was arrested in 2011 for doing just that.

Philip Datz, 37, was covering the aftermath of a police pursuit on June 29, 2011, when Suffolk Police Sgt. Michael Milton approached him and told him not to film the scene. He filmed the encounter with Milton, who ordered him to leave the scene but not without first charging the freelancer with a misdemeanor count of obstruction of governmental administration. Datz was given a desk appearance ticket.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota dropped the charges in August 2011.

Datz, of Valley Stream, filed a lawsuit that the county settled late Tuesday, paying him $200,000. The county also agree to annually train and test all police officers on the First Amendment right of the public and media to observe, photograph and record police activity in public locations, according to a news release issued by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, the National Press Photographers Association and the New York Civil Liberties Union. The group, including Datz, has scheduled a news conference for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in front of the federal court house at 100 Federal Plaza, Central Islip.

The group has created a website that includes background on the case and internal affairs documents on Milton.

"This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment and for the public good," Datz said. "When police arrest journalists just for doing their job, it jeopardizes everyone's ability to stay informed about important news in their community. Journalists have a duty to cover what the police are doing and the settlement strengthens the ability of journalists and the community to hold the police accountable for their actions as well as protecting First Amendment rights of the public."

The agreement soon will go before Judge Leonard Wexler in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District for final approval, according to the news release.

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