Police officer convicted of felony after arresting New York Times photographer
By William G. Hodge
On Thursday, October 16th, a New York police officer was convicted of a single count of falsifying a report to justify the arrest of a New York Times photographer. In 2012, Michael Ackermann arrested the freelance photographer Robert Storlarik on charges of obstruction and resisting arrest. Storlarik had been working on a story about police stop-and-frisk tactics and was taking photos of Ackermann when the incident occurred. Ackermann claimed that Storlarik had repeatedly used the camera’s flash in Ackermann’s face during the incident. However, it was later shown that Storlarik did not have a flash attachment on his camera.
During the bench trial, Ackermann’s attorney contended that it was an honest mistake given the surrounding patrol car lights, officers’ flashlights, and cellphone cameras being used by observers. Ackermann has been suspended without pay, and his sentencing is scheduled in December.
Although this incident occurred in 2012, given the current strict scrutiny of police officer tactics today, one has to wonder from a legal perspective if the punishment is higher than it may have been two years ago. Falsifying a police report is a felony, but considering the surrounding circumstances in which the photographer was doing a report on questionable police tactics, it can be argued that the punishment did not fit the crime. There is no evidence of any unwarranted contact between the arresting officer and the photographer, and by all accounts, it may have been an honest mistake by Ackermann.
In my opinion, this is only the beginning of many convictions such as this one. Not only will these incidents be more publicized, but courts will be less inclined to give police officers the benefit of the doubt. It is up to defending attorneys to navigate this tough sea of scrutiny to help police officers keep their jobs and, subsequently, keep the peace.