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Photographer Arrested at Shooting Scene Claims Rights Were Violated
The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC)

The wheels of justice are moving too slowly for a freelance photographer who says police violated his rights last month when they arrested him at the scene of a shooting in which a Durham police officer was involved.

More than a month after Capt. Dowdy allegedly manhandled and later arrested freelance photographer Julian Harrison while Harrison was attempting to photograph the scene of that shooting, Harrison and his new attorney, Amanda Martin, have met with the Durham Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit.

Martin is general counsel for the North Carolina Press Association, which advocates journalists' rights. She has represented Harrison in past cases where she said he was the subject of harassment by Durham police.

Harrison, whose work occasionally appears in The Herald-Sun, said he hopes to pursue a civil case against Dowdy if his claims are not taken seriously by Durham police and if police don't take action against Dowdy.

While Martin said Friday it's premature to say if Harrison will file suit, she added it's too early to rule such action out, either.

In a statement to the Internal Affairs Unit this week, Harrison said Dowdy approached him Nov. 3 while he, Harrison, was standing outside the crime scene tape and that Dowdy told him not to photograph "witnesses" to the shooting or Dowdy would "see that [Harrison] got arrested."

Harrison said he told Dowdy, "You're not my photo editor," at which point Dowdy grabbed the photographer's upper arm and began to squeeze.

"I said, 'Officer Dowdy you're hurting me. You're assaulting me.' That was when he tackled me backwards like a football tackle," Harrison said.

Harrison was taken into custody and driven to the jail where a magistrate refused to charge him on the grounds he had done nothing wrong. Despite that victory, Harrison noted he had already lost the opportunity to fully record the unfolding story of the shooting and the opportunity to get paid for his day's work.

Before and after Harrison's arrest, other photographers at the scene of the shooting, including photographer Walt Unks of The Herald-Sun, photographed the shooting scene and witnesses to the shooting. Unks' photographs appeared in The Herald-Sun the following day. Photographer Galen Clarke, who was also working for The Herald-Sun that day, took a photo of Dowdy holding Harrison on the trunk of a car.

The fact that others were not threatened with arrest for taking the same pictures Harrison sought is one reason the photographer said he feels he has been unjustly harassed and intimidated by police.

Photographers are permitted to record what they can see from public property, Harrison's attorney, Martin, said Friday, as long as that property is not cordoned off by crime scene tape. Harrison, she told The Herald-Sun earlier this month, was on public property and had every right to be at the scene working as a journalist.

Since his arrest, Harrison said he can't help but feel anxious as he responds to the many emergency situations he attempts to document each day.

"It's a dangerous and chilling situation when a journalist has to wonder if he's going to be assaulted just for going to work," Harrison said.

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