A retired journalist who was arrested July 2 after taking photos of a traffic accident is considering a lawsuit to protest the violation of his First Amendment rights.
John Fearing, a veteran journalist and former executive director of the Arizona Newspaper Association, was arrested in Richmond, Ind., and charged with refusing to leave an emergency incident area.
The case was dropped by the Wayne County prosecutor’s office in mid-October after a judge initially refused a motion to dismiss it.
Fearing is weighing whether a lawsuit is financial feasible on his fixed income, he said.
“I’m still very seriously considering it because when you take a fellow’s liberty, handcuff him and put him in a police car, action has to be taken,” he said. “I have an obligation to other people in America to sue them to get this to stop.”
Fearing arrived at the scene of the multi-car accident and started photographing the vehicles and people milling nearby about 3 p.m. on July 2.
When a police officer asked him to move away, Fearing walked down the street and then continued taking pictures.
The emergency nature of the accident was over by that point, according to a motion to dismiss the charges filed in Wayne Superior Court III.
All fire department and ambulance vehicles had already left, and only police and wreckers remained, according to the motion.
When Richmond Police Officer Aaron Stevens followed him down the street, Fearing switched his camera to video. (Click here to see the video at pixiq.com.)
The footage shows Fearing standing well away from the accident area and Stevens telling him to stop taking photos.
“When the cop told me, ‘You’ve invading the right to privacy of these people,’ I knew that was wrong,” Fearing said. “Because I’ve been a journalist for 40 years and because I’ve worked with the legislature for 15 years protecting the right to public records, I’m very aware of what’s public and what’s private.”
Misinformation about individual rights is a widespread issue among public officials and public safety officers, said Fearing, who worked at the Arizona Press Association from 1994 to 2008.
“This isn’t a problem with just the Richmond Police Department,” he said.