Civil Liberties

Illegitimate "No Photography" Arrest Leads to $1.2 Million Lawsuit Victory


Reason has long been on the forefront of stories about your right to film and take photographs, even if cops or other officials might not like it. Alas, cops and officials aren't reading Reason often enough.

Case in point, a $1.2 million in compensatory damages from Suffolk County awarded this week to Nancy Genovese for what she says she suffered at the hands of Suffolk County police, after being arrested essentially for taking pictures of a military helicopter.

Details from Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

[Genovese's lawyer] Long Island civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington. "There is no reason to treat another human the way they treated her."

He claimed Suffolk County sheriff's deputies humiliated Nancy Genovese after arresting her in July 2009 while she took photographs of a decorative helicopter on display outside the Gabreski Airport Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach, on eastern Long Island. A deputy sheriff allegedly said he would arrest her for terrorism to make an example of other "right wingers," according to Brewington.

"Ms. Genovese was subjected to a level of abuse because they did not share the same political views as she did and saw this as an excuse to deny her even the most basic civil rights," said Brewington.

The jury award Thursday was for compensatory damages. It will now consider punitive damages.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Genovese, 58, of East Quogue, was jailed for four days before posting $50,000 bail. The charge, on a misdemeanor count of criminal trespass, was dismissed in November 2009.

It's a shame that taxpayers have to be on the hook for the criminal actions of their "servants" but it's still good when citizens let police know that there will be some consequences for rights violations.

A very elaborate account, from Genovese's perspective, of what she says she suffered from the cops can be found on the Personal Liberty website back in May 2012. It is very based, she claims, in animus toward her for being perceived as a "right winger" and "teabagger."

Details from a Murtha and Murtha law firm account from when the arrest was fresh:

Nancy Genovese stopped her car on the side of the road across the street from the airport in an area that is open and accessible to the public, and crossed over the road to the airport entryway that is also open and accessible to the public to take a picture of the helicopter display. While still in her car, she took a picture of the decorative helicopter shell with the intention of posting it on her personal "Support Our Troops" web page.

As Nancy Genovese was preparing to drive away, she was stopped and approached by Robert Iberger, a lieutenant with the Southampton Town Police. Lieutenant Iberger demanded to know why she was taking photographs. Nancy showed the lieutenant her camera, but Lieutenant Iberger grabbed her camera and handled it "without care". In an attempt to prevent the lieutenant from damaging the camera, Nancy removed her memory card, which Lieutenant Iberger confiscated. To date, Nancy's memory card still has not been returned to her.

Iberger called the County sheriff's office on her, and then other agencies arrived:

Nancy was questioned on the side of the road for approximately five to six hours, from about 6pm until midnight, denied food or water, and denied the opportunity to use a restroom, all without having received any warnings as to her rights….

 earlier that day Nancy had been to the local shooting range with her rifle practicing her hobby, target shooting. During the first hour of questioning, Lieutenant Iberger searched Nancy's vehicle, without her consent, and came across her unloaded rifle, which Nancy was legally carrying, in a locked case….

Using force, Lieutenant Iberger pushed Nancy Genovese when she objected to the seizure of her rifle. Deputy Carlock taunted Nancy, asking in a disparaging tone, "You're a real right winger, aren't you?", and stating in words or substance that she was never going to see her rifle again.

While in custody, her family claimed, over five thousand dollars in cash she had on her, intended to pay private school tuition, disappeared from her purse. She had a fresh leg wound they did not care for in custody, leading, she claimed, to a staph infection. She also said she was placed for no good reason on "suicide watch," forcibly restrained, and injected with drugs.

The jury in her eight-day case considered her story credible enough for the hefty compensatory damage award, and again all charges were eventually dropped.

Hat tip: Mark Sletten