|Roberto Lima and Cooperating Attorney Baher Azmy|
NEWARK, N.J. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice filed a lawsuit today against the Newark Police Department on behalf of newspaper editor Roberto Lima, whom police arrested and held in custody until he relinquished photos his staff took of a dead body found in a Newark alleyway.
"I offered Newark police the original photographs as long as I could keep copies, but they handcuffed me to a bench until I agreed to give them all copies and originals," said Lima, publisher of the Newark-based Brazilian Voice newspaper. "They ordered me not to publish the pictures, but freedom of the press means that it's my choice, not the Newark Police Department's."
On September 6, 2007, a Brazilian Voice photographer discovered a dead body in the Ironbound section of Newark. Lima and his photographer reported the body to the Newark Police and directed officers to the scene. In the course of conversations with the police, Lima offered to turn over copies of pictures his photographer took of the site.
However, Deputy Chief Samuel DeMaio arrived at the scene and ordered another officer to seize Lima's camera. He also ordered Lima to turn over all copies and the originals of his pictures. Deputy Chief DeMaio told Lima, "You're not printing any of this." Lima then voluntarily went to the police station to fill out a report. After finishing the report, Lima asked for his camera back. In response, Lima was told that he would be immediately arrested unless he turned over every copy and original of the pictures. Lima refused and was arrested.
While in custody, Lima, who has deep ties in the community, contacted Councilman Augusto Amador by phone for help. Amador apparently made inquiries on his behalf, including a conversation with Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy, to no avail.
Lima remained handcuffed to a bench until he finally agreed to turn over all copies of the photos. After removing Lima's handcuffs, Detective Lydell James followed Lima back to his office and seized additional pictures. "If freedom of the press means anything, it's that police cannot arrest innocent journalists to suppress stories embarrassing to them," said Professor Baher Azmy who, along with Scott Michelman, both of the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice, represent Lima as cooperating attorneys for the ACLU-NJ. "The American people are entitled to a press that is free to report the whole truth, without intimidation or censorship by the police.
In addition to constitutional claims, the lawsuit invokes a New Jersey law that specifically ensures the right of journalists to be free from improper searches and seizures of their documentary materials by local law enforcement.
"I'm standing up for my constitutional rights, as well as the rights of others," said Lima. "Small papers like mine need to be free from police intimidation in order to do their job and keep their communities informed. If the Newark Police feel they can bully me like they did, I fear what they might do to others."
On January 4, 2008, the ACLU-NJ and Seton Hall sent the City of Newark a letter setting forth their demands and requesting an amicable resolution to the matter. The City did not respond.
The case is captioned Roberto Lima v. Newark Police Department, et al. and was filed in the United States District Court in Newark.
The September 6, 2007, incident that gave rise to the current lawsuit also gave rise to a separate but related complaint against the Newark Police Department. Upon meeting Lima and the photographer at the scene, Deputy Chief DeMaio's first question was about the immigration status of the Brazilian Voice photographer. Less than three weeks earlier, Attorney General Anne Milgram issued a directive that officers should not ask about the immigration status of victims or witnesses to crimes, only of persons arrested for crimes. One reason for this decision was that "public safety suffers if individuals believe they cannot come forward to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement" as the photographer did here. The Attorney General's Office investigated the photographer's complaint and found that Deputy Chief DeMaio's conduct violated the Directive. The Attorney General called for Newark Police Department to "evaluate appropriate disciplinary action as well as the training that will be required for the Newark Police on this issue."