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Not quite. The sheriff of that small North Carolina TV-land town never had to deal with cocky TV news photographers and the tension between reporters' First Amendment rights to gather information and the police's need to protect an accident site for investigation.
WPEC's general manager, Bill Peterson, said the station tells reporters and news photographers to follow police orders that are deemed lawful. "Police work is difficult work and so is being a news photographer," he points out, "and the rules seem to be very flexible and change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction." Other news media evidently agree. Peterson says local media colleagues have offered to lend legal support to Strange's planned appeal. He declined to name them.
In the Coral Springs jurisdiction -- one that was relatively new to Strange professionally -- the rules were not clearly expressed. At least not to Strange. As far as he was concerned, no lawful order was ever made. At no time, according to the video or Caffray's police report, did a police officer explain that he was impeding an investigation or rescue effort. The police just told him to turn off the camera. Eissman suggests that Strange might have asked to speak with the officers' superiors or tried to negotiate a more acceptable position to film.
"The whole time it was happening," Strange explains, "I guess I didn't really believe it. Even when they put the handcuffs on, it was like 'OK, I guess they're going to put handcuffs on me and take my camera and slap my wrist.'"
He got a criminal record instead.
Robert Rivas, the Boca Raton attorney who represents WPEC, said he intends to sue the City of Coral Springs following the appeal. He believes the police wanted to control what Strange videotaped and had no legitimate concern that he was impeding the rescue effort or the investigation of the plane crash. Indeed, Caffray's report states, "I allowed defendant to make a phone call for bond. In doing so defendant telephoned his work and advised them that he had everything that happened on tape, only to confirm my belief that defendant continued taping."
Her belief, of course, was well founded.
"I'm not saying I'm an expert [on the law]," Strange maintains, "but I do know what my rights are, and if I see my rights are being violated, I'm not going to be passive.