Prosecutors dropped misdemeanor charges against a Pennsylvania State University newspaper photographer on Wednesday, just as a First Amendment-battle was taking shape, but expect to re-file them next week, The Daily Collegian reported.
Michael Felletter, a photographer for The Daily Collegian, was charged last fall with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse after covering an Oct. 25 riot following a Penn State football victory. Charges were dropped because the filing detective was ill and could not show up at the preliminary hearing, the paper said.
Andrew Shubin, the photographer’s attorney, told The Daily Collegian that Felletter broke no laws, arguing that the state shouldn’t try to hold “a photographer responsible for covering news.”
Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira countered that the case “isn’t about the press taking pictures” and centers not around the First Amendment, but on Felletter’s refusal to obey a police order.
According to an earlier Daily Collegian report, Felletter was told to leave the crowd twice by a police officer who spotted him taking pictures of an arrest. The officer ultimately took the photographer’s driver’s license; according to The Daily Collegian, the criminal complaint implies that Felletter, in shooting photos, “excited the crowd.”
Robert Richards, co-director of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment, told The Daily Collegian that even though journalists are not immune to police orders, such an allegation about a photographer doing his job could be difficult to prove.
– Ahnalese Rushmann