Media groups call on NYPD to drop case against veteran NYC photographer arrested at Jordan Neely protest
Press freedom groups called on the NYPD and Mayor Adams Thursday to drop charges against a veteran New York City photographer arrested on the job at a protest against Jordan Neely’s killing.
Stephanie Keith, an award-winning independent news photographer who frequently shoots for Reuters, Getty, and the New York Times, was arrested outside the Broadway-Lafayette St. subway station on Monday as she photographed protest arrests. She was released later that night and charged with disorderly conduct, police said.
Representatives for Keith, the American Society of Media Photographers, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the New York Press Photographers Association, and the National Press Photographers Association called on city officials to intervene in the case at a lower Manhattan press conference.
“When the action we see is the highest-ranking uniformed police officer making an unlawful arrest of a credentialed and working journalist, the message being sent to all of the NYPD police officers and residents of New York City is that the constitution doesn’t matter,” civil rights lawyer Wylie Stecklow said.
A day after her arrest, Keith learned a series she contributed to in the New York Times — about one of the city’s deadliest fires on record — was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize.
Stecklow told the Daily News the Pulitzer nod underscored Keith’s professionalism and commitment to covering New York City.
“This is ridiculous. This is a working journalist. Drop the charges against her. She is not an agitator,” Stecklow said. “She’s not somebody who’s looking to cause problems. She’s not somebody who’s interfering with arrests. She’s somebody documenting newsworthy arrests.”
Footage of the chaotic incident posted online shows one of the NYPD’s top uniformed members, Chief of Patrol John Chell, clutching Keith’s arm and ordering community affairs cops to “lock her up!”
Stecklow welcomed a Civilian Complaint Review Board inquiry into Keith’s arrest, and called on the police watchdog to investigate Chell’s actions. He said there was no evidence Keith interfered in any arrests.
The protest came in response to the May 1 captured-on-video death of Neely, a former Michael Jackson tribute artist, aboard an F train. The city Medical Examiner ruled Neely’s death a homicide on May 3.
Neely died in a chokehold administered by U.S. Marine veteran Daniel Penny, 24. Penny is expected to turn himself in Friday to face a manslaughter charge in the captured-on-video incident.
Keith was among credentialed media members photographing police handcuffing bloodied demonstrators when she was shuffled into a police van and taken to the 7th Precinct.
Keith said she was underground shooting a vigil for Neely when she dropped what she was doing to run up and document arrests on the street.
“It was a very traumatic experience. I’m not used to being treated like that,” Keith said.
Keith said she takes extra precautions when covering demonstrations and is content to document the action with a long lens if it means staying safe.
“Frankly, I try to keep my distance as much as possible, you know? I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to get in the way. I feel like I’m always further back than a lot of my colleagues are,” Keith said.
A police spokesperson declined to comment when asked about efforts to have the charges against Keith dropped. An Adams spokesman did not respond to a Daily News query.