A former Temple student photographer and his girlfriend are suing two Philadelphia police officers for an incident that occurred two years ago in which the couple was arrested after the student took photos of police making an arrest near his South Philadelphia home.
Ian Van Kuyk and Meghan Feighan filed a complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on March 6 in which they seek in excess of $50,000 in damages for alleged assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest and malicious prosecution by officers Samuel Allen and Santos Higgins.
According to the complaint, the couple was sitting outside their home around 9 p.m. on March 14, 2012, when they saw officers Higgins and Allen stop a car across the street. When Van Kuyk, a film and media arts major at the time with a Temple-issued camera, began taking pictures of the officers, he was ordered to stop. When he continued taking pictures, police arrested Van Kuyk and Feighan, who attempted to pick the camera up from the ground. Van Kuyk was charged with obstruction, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Feighan was charged with obstruction and disorderly conduct. Both plaintiffs had their charges dropped in court.
In court, the officers said Van Kuyk was “dangerously close to police officer Allen’s firearm,” according to the complaint. The complaint states Van Kuyk was standing across the street when he was taking photographs. However, the complaint states that the officers said in court that after telling Van Kuyk to stop taking photos, Van Kuyk told the officers he was a journalist working on a night photography assignment for school. When Allen tried to push him back, the officers said Van Kuyk grabbed the officer.
According to the complaint, Officer Higgins told the court Van Kuyk created a “hazardous condition, because we had a whole crowd coming out at that time. They were screaming and yelling.”
The complaint alleged that officers Higgins and Allen fabricated and embellished their statements to the court, going so far as to accuse the officers of perjury.
“Ironically, it was the disgraceful and abusive conduct of Allen and Higgins that drew a crowd,” the complaint said. “Mr. Van Kuyk had done nothing more than exercise his Constitutional rights that night.”
In a message to The Temple News, Van Kuyk deferred questions to his lawyer, Philadelphia attorney Robert J. Levant of Levant & Martin, P.C., who did not respond to a request for comment.
After charges were dropped against Van Kuyk and Feighan, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey issued a directive to the department informing officers of the public’s right to record officers performing their duties when in public.
Shortly after the incident, Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, sent an open letter to Ramsey and other city officials in which he said, “There is no excuse for your officers to intentionally disregard a citizen’s right to photograph an event occurring in a public place.
“NPPA is extremely concerned that the apparent lack of discipline and training of your officers will result in further incidents. We take this opportunity to offer our assistance in working with your department to develop reasonable and workable policies,” the letter read.
Van Kuyk and Feighan are additionally represented by Mark W. Tanner of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock Dodig, LLP.
In January 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police department on behalf of another Temple student, Chris Montgomery, for a similar incident involving the recording of a police arrest near 15th and Chestnut streets in January 2011.
John Moritz can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.