Arrested For A Camera In The Courthouse Hallway

At first blush, the naivete is borderline painful. How is it possible that Daryl Khan didn’t see this coming?

I am writing this from inside a jail cell. I was put here for doing an unremarkable, routine bit of journalism, covering a sentencing in a murder. I won’t go so far as to say I was arrested since I was never read any rights. I am in the cell just the same.

I must have covered hundreds of similar hearings in my career. But this is the first time I ever ended up in the same cellblock as the subjects I was covering.

Sigh. Let’s start at the top. Being read Miranda rights has nothing to do with being arrested, but with the ability to use statements as evidence. When you start out with something so clueless, it makes one wonder how you could have “covered hundreds of similar hearings” and learned nothing.

But then, you didn’t end up in a cellblock because you did “an unremarkable, routine bit of journalism.” To say that reflects a cluelessness that makes one wonder how you can call yourself a journalist.

Khan writes that he was there to cover the sentence of Taylonn Murphy Jr. for the murder of 18-year-old Walter Sumter.  He was covering it for a website called Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) is the only publication covering juvenile justice and related issues nationally on a consistent, daily basis.

Fair enough. But it appears to have an advocacy journalism tinge.

Focused not just on delivering information, but rather on an “exchange” of ideas, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange fosters a community of support around the issues facing the youth of our country. Members are made up of people like yourself who are interested in doing what is best for at-risk kids, along with industry professionals who work with children on a daily basis and citizens of Georgia and around the United States.

Khan was arrested at 100 Centre Street, the primary Manhattan criminal courthouse. There are some fairly well-known, well-established rules of the game there. One of them is that you don’t get to take pictures or video in the courthouse without the judge’s permission. That was the part about the “routine bit of journalism” that Khan omitted.

I had just shot video of a phalanx of court officers who came out of a courtroom and were followed by a pregnant woman in the throes of some kind of intense anxiety attack. She moved haltingly. She struggled to breathe.

You will never see this 28 seconds of video because I have just been forced to delete it.

There were others in the hallway taking video. Khan took video too. But there was a difference.

By the time I made my way upstairs, members of the New York press corps had already assembled and were waiting on the floor as well. There were reporters and photographers from the New York Times, the Post, the New York Daily News and others, including a film crew from “Nightline.” I joined the mass of reporters and waited.

Eventually they started letting press in so they could set up in the jurors’ box. When I approached, a court officer asked to see my press credentials. Press credentials are handed out by the NYPD and are not legally binding in any way. I have had credentials in the past when I worked for daily newspapers but the NYPD has refused to give me one since I work for JJIE. So when the officer asked I told him I don’t have one. He refused to let me in.

Khan, perhaps inadvertently, raises an interesting problem. He’s correct that the NYPD gives out press credentials. He’s right that they are “not legally binding” in the sense that the NYPD has no authority to decide who is press and who isn’t. But then, they’re totally binding when it comes to whom the NYPD and the courts treat as press. If you don’t have the NYPD press pass, you’re not press as far as they’re concerned.

As I shot the video, a female court officer told me I should be ashamed of myself. And then another asked, “Is he shooting video?”

And another responded, “Yes, he is.”

I was approached by three court officers, all men, one in the middle flanked by two on each side, their hands on the handles of their guns. They are authorized to use deadly force.

“Who are you?” the one in the middle asked.

I told him my name.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I’m a reporter,” I said, handing him my business card, which was already in my hand. “I’m covering this story like everyone else.”

“Where’s your press credentials?” he asked.

“I don’t have any, NYPD won’t give them to me,” I replied.

This raises a plethora of questions. He’s no less a reporter because the NYPD doesn’t recognize JJIE as a legitimate media outlet. But he’s no more a reporter because he says he is. And since anybody can start a media website, is everybody a reporter? And since when is a free press subject to being official media? It’s no more law than the NYPD deciding who’s worthy of press credentials.

The rules against photography and video in the courthouse have been in place forever, and are within the court’s authority. As for the NYPD’s issuance of press credentials, that too has been the “way” forever. Nobody thought to question it. Khan should have known the deal going in, and his surprise at not being treated like he’s a Times stringer falls flat.

Khan was tossed into lockup. For how long isn’t clear. He was released with summons.

A few minutes ago, one of the court officers handed me a pink piece of paper. It reads “‘Title of Offense: Dis Con’.”

Disorderly conduct isn’t a crime, but an infraction.  Webcrims shows no record for Khan. He may end up with the case dismissed, ACD’d or a conditional discharge, perhaps with something like community service. Or he may refuse and seek a trial.  Despite his lack of press credentials, and his either being ignorant of, or refusing to adhere to, the rules about cameras in the courthouse, arresting him seems utterly idiotic. Take away his camera until he leaves, and then give it back to him. Walk him out, if you have to. But arrest him?

Yet, the many questions, bigger issues, remain. The old rules don’t quite fit anymore, and the days of no one questioning them may be over. Is Khan a legit journalist? Who gets to say? And why does it matter? Just because we took for granted that journalists got more rights than others, that there was such a thing as legit journalists, doesn’t mean the questions will never be asked.  And it isn’t a good reason to arrest a guy who says he’s there to “do journalism,” whether the NYPD approves or not.

8 thoughts on “Arrested For A Camera In The Courthouse Hallway

  1. Martin Goodson

    “You will never see this 28 seconds of video because I have just been forced to delete it.”

    Oh, come now. Any photojournalist worth the name should be able to recover that footage in nothing flat if he still has the card. If he wanted to upload it he could.

  2. Keith

    In SDNY, they still require reporters to have an office in the courthouse and back in the days of pure paper filing, they would give their in-house reporters (hi Gary) a first crack at copying new complaints before the public had access to them. However, they also have a method around the NYPD for cases like Khan’s:
    “Individuals who demonstrate that they cannot obtain NYPD Press Cards or NYPD Reserve Press Cards may nevertheless obtain an SDNY press pass for a particular court proceeding if they demonstrate they are members of the press and if they pre-register sufficiently in advance (two weeks) with the SDNY District Executive’s Office. “

    Blogging has changed the landscape in many ways and legitimate reporting venues should have the ability to bring images of our systems of government to the people (so long as they aren’t disruptive of the goings-on inside them).

    Hopefully Mr. Khan will spur them to act a bit.

    1. SHG Post author

      So this isn’t a post about SDNY. Or the District of Iowa. Or anyplace else, so you can tell the story you want to tell because reasons.

  3. John Barleycorn

    And here I thought three or four disorderly conduct charges were a prerequisite?

    Daryl is a “criminal” now. The gateway to the existential half of “ashamed”.

    Give the kid a break esteemed one, he will figure it out. Besides this will give him a lifetime to work out his shaming masterpiece while contemplating the dark necessities an at-risk Judiciary, that has a thing for orderly, must deal with in order to become a productive member of society.

    1. DaveL

      Give the kid a break esteemed one, he will figure it out

      Possibly. We can, however, be assured that as soon as he pulls his head out of his posterior just enough to see the faintest glimmer of daylight, he’ll make it his new personal crusade to educate the masses about this brave new world outside his rectum, which he imagines he is the first to discover.

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