By Timothy B. Lee
Miami journalist plans to sue department over unauthorized deletion of his footage.
A jury acquitted a Florida photojournalist who was arrested on January 31 while documenting the eviction of Occupy Miami protesters. The police accused Carlos Miller, author of a popular blog about the rights of photojournalists, of disobeying a lawful police order to clear the area. But another journalist testified he had been standing nearby without incident.
After Miller’s January arrest, the police confiscated his camera and deleted some of his footage, including video documenting his encounter with the police. That may prove to be an expensive mistake. Miller was able to recover the footage, which proved helpful in winning his acquittal. He says his next step will be to file a lawsuit charging that the deletion of the footage violated his constitutional rights.
“I was questioning their orders. That’s what I do”
The one-day trial occurred on Wednesday. In a Thursday interview, Miller told us that the prosecution accused him of “being antagonistic to police because I was questioning their orders.” However, he said, “that’s what I do. I know my rights. I know the law.”
During the trial, Miller’s attorney, Santiago Lavandera, admitted that Miller used some coarse language with the police officers at one point during the evening. But he stressed that it wasn’t the job of a journalist to meekly obey police orders.
“When you’re a journalist, your job is to investigate,” Lavandera told the jury. “Not to be led by your hand where the police want you to see, so they can hide what they don’t want you to see. As long as you are acting within the law, as Mr. Miller was, you have the right to demand and say, ‘no, I’m not moving, I have the right to be here. This is a public sidewalk, I have the right to be here.’”
Miller told us the jury deliberated for only about half an hour before returning a verdict of “not guilty.” He said his case was helped by the footage he recovered from his camera. That footage, he told us, clearly showed that there were other journalists nearby when he was arrested.