PENNSYLVANIA — March 6, 2009. The case of a Pennsylvania State University student photographer is headed for a trial after a district judge threw out all but one of the charges.
Penn State junior Michael Felletter is charged with failing to disperse when he was taking photos for The Daily Collegian on the scene of a riot that broke out near campus in State College, Pa., after a football game last October. Police said Felletter did not leave the area when asked repeatedly, though Felletter maintains that he did leave.
District Judge Carmine Prestia dismissed four of Felletter’s five counts of failure to disperse, plus the one count of disorderly conduct.
“The media has no greater right to the scene than the general public,” Prestia said at the preliminary court date on March 4, according to a story in the Collegian.
Felletter’s original charges were dropped on Jan. 21 when the charging detective did not show up for the scheduled court date, but District Attorney Michael Madiera re-filed identical charges a week later. Madiera has previously said he does not consider the charges a First Amendment issue. He did not return calls for comment.
Attorney Andy Shubin, who is representing Felletter on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the case is undeniably a First Amendment issue because Felletter was singled out of the unruly crowd.
“Kids with cell phones who were taking pictures were not targeted. My client was targeted because he had a fancy camera and looked like a photographer for the media,” Shubin said.
He said that instead of being targeted for “responsibly doing his job,” Felletter should receive special consideration because of his role as a photojournalist.
“I also think that the law provides for special access and special rights for members of the media because of the importance of getting that information out to the public,” Shubin said.
Police detectives used some of the photos Felletter took for the Collegian to identify and charge other students involved in the riot.
Shubin said Felletter is anxious to have a trial because of the important free-press questions involved. He expects the trial will begin in few months.
By Lisa Waananen, SPLC staff writer