Journalist sues police who investigated his use of a drone

The Hartford Courant | Vice | Professional Society of Drone Journalists

A photographer for WFSB-TV in Hartford, Conn., filed a suit against the Hartford Police Department in U.S. District Court Tuesday, claiming a police officer demanded his employer discipline him after he flew a drone over an accident scene.

In his suit (which you can read below), Pedro Rivera says he was off work on Feb. 1 when he heard about an accident. Once he got to the scene, he flew a drone over it to "record visual images," the suit says. Police "surrounded the plaintiff, demanded his identification card, and asked him questions about what he was doing," the suit says. "The plaintiff did not feel as though he were free to leave during the course of this questioning."

A police sergeant who wrote a report of the incident "expressed concern that flying a drone over the scene might compromise the integrity of the scene and the 'privacy of the victim's body,'" Hilda Muñoz reported in The Hartford Courant on Feb. 7. The FAA told Muñoz it was looking into the incident.

Rivera's suit says police spokesperson Brian Foley called WFSB and "requested that discipline be imposed upon the plaintiff by his employer, or suggested that the employer could maintain its goodwill with the employer by disciplining the plaintiff." WFSB GM Klarn DePalma told Muñoz that Rivera is a "temporary, on-call employee of WFSB."

The station suspended Rivera, Jason Koebler reports in Vice. Koebler reported Monday that Rivera intended to sue the police.

Rivera told Matthew Schroyer of the Professional Society of Drone Journalists "journalists on the ground obtained more intrusive images than his drone was capable of taking":

“If privacy is a concern, it was not with me,” Rivera wrote. “It was with all the local news stations that were on the sidewalks with ‘long lenses’ and had shots so tight, that you could see inside the crash vehicle.”

Rivera's lawsuit says he "suffered ascertainable economic loss in the form of a lost week of wages, emotion distress and the loss of his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizures to freedom of speech." He's seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an injunction "forbidding the City of Hartford’s Police Department from interfering with the lawful operation of drones within city limits."

Here's Rivera's suit, courtesy his attorney, Norm Pattis:

Pedro Rivera's lawsuit against Hartford, Conn., Police

Related: Journalists await new drone regulations. And wait, and wait… | FAA on drone recordings by journalists: ‘There is no gray area’ | Photographer says Spokesman-Review’s drone-shot video occurred in a ‘gray area’

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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