The Montgomery County government will pay $45,000 to freelance photojournalist Mannie Garcia to settle Garcia’s legal claims that he was improperly arrested in 2011 after video-recording county police officers issuing a liquor citation outside a restaurant, the county and photojournalist said in a joint statement Wednesday.
Montgomery officials had long disputed the claims and said Wednesday they “expressly denied liability” in settling the case. The lawsuit, in U.S. District Court in Maryland, was to go to trial this month.
An attorney for Garcia said he was pleased with the outcome.
“Our goal from the beginning was to make sure that Mannie got some compensation for what he went through at the hands of the police,” said the attorney, Robert Corn-Revere. “And to make sure that it is understood that journalists and citizens alike have a First Amendment right to photograph the police in the performance of their duties.”
Still to be decided is how much in attorneys fees will be awarded.
The case earlier had caught the attention of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, which filed court papers in the proceedings that outlined the division’s general concerns that “discretionary charges, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest, are all too easily used to curtail expressive conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights.”
The ligation grew out of incidents the evening of June 16, 2011. Garcia had been eating dinner with his wife and a friend, court records say. When he left the restaurant, he saw police activity, pulled out a Nikon Coolpix 7000 camera, and started video-recording, according to the records. What happened after that remains in dispute.
According to Garcia, Montgomery police officers aggressively confronted him and charged him with disorderly conduct “solely because he was video-recording them.” Garcia said that this violated his First and Fourth amendment rights, court records show.
“Garcia also contends that the video card in his camera, which contains the record of the events of that night, was unlawfully seized by one of the officers and never returned,” District Judge Theodore D. Chuang wrote in 2015, summing up the position each side had taken in the lawsuit.
Of the police officers’ accounts, the judge wrote that “defendants paint a very different picture of the events leading to Garcia’s arrest” and asserted “Garcia was arrested not because he was video recording the police, but because, after a police officer approached him to ask benign questions about what he was doing, Garcia began to yell and curse, and continued to do so despite being asked repeatedly to quiet down.”
The police denied taking the video card, the judge wrote, and the police said Garcia had tried to “recast a routine arrest for disorderly conduct as a case of constitutional significance.”
On Dec. 16, 2011, Garcia was tried before a judge on the disorderly conduct charge and was found not guilty.