For immediate release
John Ensslin, SPJ President, 973-513-5632,
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Manager, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – Charges against a New York City photojournalist arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests have been dismissed.
The charges against Douglas Higginbotham, a freelancer working for Television New Zealand, were dropped Feb. 17 "in the interests of justice.” Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, filed a motion to dismiss the case.
NPPA and the Society of Professional Journalists came to Higginbotham's defense following his arrest during a demonstration that broke out after police had dispersed protestors from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. SPJ provided a $1,000 grant to his attorney from its Legal Defense Fund, and SPJ’s New York City chapter, the Deadline Club, advocated for Higginbotham’s rights.
Higginbotham was arrested after he stood on top of a phone booth to get a better vantage point of the protest. When police ordered him down, Higginbotham tried to comply. Before he could so, officers pulled him off his perch and arrested him on a disorderly conduct charge.
"Being a freelancer working in New York for a TV station in New Zealand, I was very concerned and upset after my arrest," Higginbotham said in an interview.
Ironically, while covering a celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden last year, police officers and firefighters helped Higginbotham onto another nearby phone booth.
SPJ President John Ensslin said he was not surprised that the charges against Higginbotham were dropped.
"I felt Doug had a strong case, and I knew that he had a good lawyer," Ensslin said. "We’re glad Doug can go back to work without the threat of prosecution hanging over his head."
NPPA President Sean Elliot said, “I am pleased to see the correct outcome in this case, but unfortunately the fact that Mr. Higginbotham was arrested in the first place represents just another example of a disturbing trend in police-press relations.”
“I would hope that the NPPA, SPJ and other organizations representing journalists can continue to make headway in educating police officials on how to better work with the media and avoid such incidents as this in the future,” he added.
A video of Higginbotham's arrest is available here.
SPJ issued a strong protest in November against the arrests of journalists in several U.S. cities who were swept into police custody while doing their job of covering the news.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.