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SPJ protests Memphis police’s treatment of photojournalist


For immediate release

John Ensslin, SPJ President, 973-513-5632,
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Manager, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists objects to the arrest of a photojournalist Casey Monroe in a letter to Memphis, Tenn., Police Director Toney Armstrong.

Monroe was briefly detained Jan. 29. Police confiscated his phone and deleted the video and photographic footage he made of a police officer arresting a restaurant owner on a public street.

SPJ’s letter also expresses support for the Memphis Police Department’s internal investigation into the issue, offering support from SPJ’s local chapter in facilitating a dialog on the First Amendment rights of citizens to record events in public spaces.

Read SPJ President John Ensslin’s letter below. (The National Press Photographers Association sent its own letter objecting to Monroe’s treatment.)

Toney Armstrong
Police Director
Memphis Police Department
201 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, TN 38103

February 7, 2012

Dear Mr. Armstrong,

My name is John Ensslin. I am president of the Society of Professional Journalists, the oldest and largest journalism organization in the U.S. with about 8,000 members nationwide.

I'm writing to express SPJ’s distress and deep concern over reports that a television news photojournalist for ABC24 News was briefly detained and had his camera impounded by Memphis police officers after taking video footage of a local business owner being arrested.

Particularly disturbing to us are allegations that the photographer, Casey Monroe, claimed that the footage he took of the incident had been deleted while the camera was in police custody.

As the brother of a former police officer, I understand that officers are on high alert to their surroundings whenever they carry out an arrest, even for something as routine as a parking violation.

But as I'm sure you know, Mr. Monroe had a First Amendment right to videotape an arrest, particularly in an instance like this one where there was no allegation that he was obstructing officers from doing their job.

As for the matter of the deleted tapes, if true, this would be a serious lapse of judgment on the part of whoever erased them. The video could be considered the property of the photographer and/or the television station.

Furthermore, if the tapes contained information relevant to an internal affairs investigation, deleting that video could be seen as destroying evidence.

In either event, destroying the tapes creates a public impression – rightly or wrongly – that there was something to hide.

We are glad your department is conducting an internal affairs investigation into the matter, and will follow the outcome with great interest. If our local chapter can be of any assistance in facilitating an open dialog with members of your department on matters of reporting and the First Amendment, we stand ready to assist.

Yours truly,

John Ensslin
Society of Professional Journalists

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