By Tom Burton
Garcia was arrested while photographing police officers responding to a call on a public street in Wheaton, Maryland. Officers Christopher Malouf and Kevin Baxter were involved in physically detaining Garcia who said he was put in a choke hold and repeatedly thrown to the ground.
Garcia was acquitted of disorderly conduct about six months later, but during that time had his White House credentials suspended because he had been charged with a crime, impeding his ability to work. Garcia, represented by the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, LLC with support from the National Press Photographers Association, filed the suit alleging civil rights violations in 2012.
Legal fees and costs for the civil suit are still to be decided by the court and are expected to easily exceed six-figures.
“I’m extremely relieved that it’s come to fruition after five and a half years,” Garcia said. “I think this law suit has given attention to the fact that police departments need to pay attention in regards to individuals’ rights.”
In addition to violations of Garcia’s First and Fourth Amendment rights, the suit claimed that Montgomery County officers had a practice of arresting people for openly recording police activity and had been indifferent to such police misconduct. The United States Department of Justice entered a Statement of Interest cautioning courts to be wary of police use of discretionary charges in these cases.
In January of 2017, days prior to the mediation of this case, the Montgomery County Department of Police adopted a training bulletin addressing citizens videotaping police activities.
The financial settlement is not the most important issue for Garcia who said this was never about the money. He said it was about the rights of any citizen, not just journalists, to record the public actions of law enforcement.
“It’s going to have an effect for a everyone, not just me,” Garcia said.
One of his attorneys, Bob Corn-Revere added, “we are very pleased to have helped obtain a measure of justice for Mannie Garcia, and to affirm the principle that the First Amendment protects the right of photojournalists and citizens alike to document the actions of police officers in the performance of their duties.”
“Mannie and his lawyers should be commended for vigorously pursuing this case. It is unfortunate that another law enforcement agency had to learn the hard way to respect the Constitution at taxpayer’s expense,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, NPPA general counsel, who worked with Garcia and his lawyers on this case.