Above is the raw video from the camera of WITI-TV photojournalist Clint Fillinger just prior to his arrest Sunday nigh accused of resisting a Milwaukee police officer and obstructing the officer in his duties at the scene of a house fire. On the video, the police sergeant can be heard saying that Fillinger was being moved back for "his safety". At the same time the safety of the members of the public, who like Fillinger, were standing outside the secure area, behind the police yellow tape, is apparently not so important.
The officer was so concerned about the safety of this one man with the camera that he knocked the 68-year-old cameraman to the ground as Fillinger was being shepherded to the end of the block. Fillinger told a reporter for his station that he touched the officer while putting up his hands in a defensive move as the officer came at him while the photographer was walking backwards. I will let you be the judge if the officer's reaction was appropriate. I say this knowing there will be plenty out there who will focus on the fact Fillinger touched the sergeant and that's all anyone needs to know.
The other police officer on the video, also identified as a sergeant, told Fillinger we need you to move back "for their privacy".
Now, let's bring in Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn who was asked by a reporter from WITI-TV to comment on this confrontation. The chief pointed out, since this was the same as a citizen complaint he was limited in what he could say to those facts that everyone has seen on TV. From apparently watching that video the chief made the point, "If the cameraman had simply complied with the instructions to back off from a working fire none of this hullabaloo would be taking place".
But Chief Flynn, couldn't it also be said at this point from just watching the video, if the police officer hadn't targeted an individual for removal from a non-secure area because the person was carrying a camera none of this hullabaloo would be taking place?
The chief did what many will think is an admirable thing by defending his people, taking the side of the sergeant over the cameraman based on the video that's in the public. But isn't Chief Flynn also sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States?
In the defense of the Constitution shouldn't the chief be bringing up some other points and questions that seem reasonable to bring up from just looking at and listening to this video? Things like was that a lawful order of the police officer based on the recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals? Why was it so important to aggressively remove this one person from the scene and not anyone else? Just what privacy expectation is there on a public street in Milwaukee? What safety concern was there that only the photographer needed to be sent to the end of the block?
Yes, it's great to support your people chief and to reserve judgment until the investigation is complete. But wouldn't it be nice if you or some other police chief got up there during one of these situations and said something like this?
"I want to make it clear that the job of the police department is to defend the Constitution of the United States. This includes the First Amendment. In reviewing this incident I want to make sure that the rights of this individual carrying a camera were not violated and at the same time try to determine if this order from my officer is consistent with our rules, regulations and procedures and the laws of this state and country. When this investigation is complete I hope to know these answers. In the meantime I can assure you that my officers are aware that it is their duty not to interfere with anyone who is lawfully shooting pictures."
So, tell me Chief Flynn, would it make you or your department look bad if you answered the questions about this incident in that manner? Is that not a more even handed way to reply to something as important as this? Is it considered a sign of weakness for the police to make a clear statement about supporting the First Amendment? Would you be considered any less of a police chief in front of the public or your officers if you answered this way?