Before we jump into this week’s story, I wanted to briefly talk about some changes that will impact Felony Friday, our longest running feature and most popular feature. Along with other exciting changes coming to this website that will be announced at a later date, we will be expanding the footprint of Felony Friday. I don’t want to give away details, but we promise that the new format will provide even more coverage surrounding newsworthy felonies and will find new and exciting ways to communicate how these felonies affect your individual rights.
Ok, now that I’ve gotten that out-of-the-way, let’s get to the story for this week.
Earlier this week, Judge Michael Gross convicted NYPD Officer Michael Ackermann of a single count of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, which is a Class E felony. The conviction stems from an incident in August 2012 where officer Ackerman assaulted and arrested photographer Robert Stolarik for refusing to stop photographing a stop and frisk in the Concourse neighborhood of the Bronx.
Ackermann had claimed that Stolarik repeatedly discharged his camera’s flash in Ackermann’s face while he was trying to arrest a 15-year-old girl, “blinding him and preventing him from performing his duties.” Ackermann also said that the photographer “violently resisted being handcuffed,” injuring another officer on their hand.
In fact, there was no flashbulb attached to Stolarik’s camera. During the trial, a camera expert testified that Stolarik’s camera wasn’t capable of producing a flash.
In multiple interviews after his arrest, Stolarik said the officers tried to prevent him from photographing the encounter, and that when he asked for their badge numbers, he was “surrounded and taken down — dragged, kicked, and stomped on.” Stolarik spent the night in jail, and his equipment and press credentials were confiscated; he was also charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, though those charges were eventually dropped.
Stolarik later called the NYPD’s version of what happened “the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
This case has not attracted the national attention that some other recent incidents involving NYPD Police abuse have, but the significance of this conviction should not be underestimated.
The use of cameras to record, expose, and document those who use their position of authority to violate individual rights is of paramount importance to securing a free society. Images and videos provide an unbiased view of a situation that is impossible to ascertain through other means.
It is common to hear the mantra repeated that most cops are good and it is only a few bad eggs who give cops in general a bad reputation. If there is a morsel of truth to this statement, then it would seem to be in the best interest of “good cops” to encourage citizens to photograph and record them performing their duties.
This documentation of their work would seem to help cops in two ways.
Firstly, it could provide evidence of the many cops who follow the law and abide by the rules.
Secondly, it could deter “bad cops” from violating citizens’ rights for fear of being exposed.
It would seem to be logical to assume that those cops who are opposed to having citizens record their work in the field might have something to hide. It is likely they are at least displaying tendencies that could be perceived as rights violations and at worst intentionally trying to hide blatant rights violations.
This conviction is a win for those who value individual rights and for “good cops” everywhere. The sooner we can expose the crimes of bad cops and remove them from their position of authority, the sooner we can advance our society towards one built upon a solid foundation grounded in individual rights.
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