Attorney pledges suit after alleged beating, arrest of New York radio journalist
NEW YORK — The attorney for a radio journalist who remains hospitalized after allegedly being beaten by police and arrested on March 25, says he will file suit against the New York Police Department in a case he terms “at the heart of the First Amendment.”
Michael Tarif Warren says his client, WBAI producer Errol Maitland, was seriously injured and improperly arrested while covering the funeral and subsequent street protest of Patrick Dorismond, a Haitian-American who was fatally shot on March 16 by an NYPD officer.
Meanwhile, Maitland, 49, has been hospitalized for 10 days at Kings County Hospital Center, where a spokeswoman said today he was in stable condition but still undergoing tests. Warren said the journalist suffered pain in his chest, shoulder, back, knees and head, as well as breathing difficulties, after the scuffle.
“This is the first time that I can ever remember that a journalist simply reporting the truth has been viciously attacked in the most unwarranted fashion,” Warren told The Freedom Forum Online. “It is so important. In the first instance, you have a journalist being beaten while performing his fundamental responsibilities, the reporting of the news. You also have the preventing of listeners from receiving his observations. The very heart of the First Amendment.”
Warren said Maitland, at the time of his arrest, was reporting “aggressive moves on the part of the police” and “an escalation of the police violence.”
New York has been the scene of escalating tensions between the NYPD and African-Americans over several fatal police shootings of blacks.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called upon New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani to investigate the alleged beating and arrest. Executive Director Ann K. Cooper wrote to Giuliani that her organization, which is dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, was “deeply troubled” by reports of Maitland’s attack and arrest by police.
“We urge you to investigate this incident,” Cooper wrote to the mayor, “and would welcome any new information that might arise in the course of this investigation.”
The incident occurred as Maitland was providing live coverage on a cell phone of the protest following Dorismond’s funeral at Holy Cross Church in Brooklyn.
WBAI has made available on the Internet a tape of Maitland’s broadcast during the incident.
On the tape, Maitland, of Jamaican heritage, can be heard describing the scene before him. But then he says: “The police are surrounding this woman, and they’re beating her down to the ground … and she’s down on the ground … and one of the cops is yelling ‘Stop, stop.’ “
In the background, intermingled with Maitland’s descriptions, frequent amplified police instructions are heard: “Leave the area.” “Leave the area.” “We need to restore order.” “Leave the area, or you’ll be subject to arrest.”
Maitland then says: “… and he’s telling one of the officers … because they are getting ready to break out here on the crowd … and this woman is down on the ground, and they are yelling ‘disperse’ while she’s down on the ground.”
At this stage, Maitland apparently approached an officer and asked for a statement “as to what’s going on.”
What happens next is difficult to decipher. Maitland’s voice becomes unclear and for the most part muffled. But he can be heard to say: “I’ve just been pushed by a policeman … and he’s been told to f— me up … . I’m down on the ground … now on my back … and I’m still broadcasting because this is how the police department in New York … .”
Police Sgt. Andrew McInnis, department spokesman, said Maitland was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after he forced his way through police lines.
“He did not possess any press credentials, any broadcasting equipment, nothing that identified him as press,” McInnis said. “He forced his way through police lines. After police told people to leave the area, as a result, not having anything on him that identified him as press, he was arrested. Even if he did have credentials, that gives you access to go behind police lines but you still have to follow the rules.”
Warren disputed the claim that police did not know Maitland was a journalist.
“At some point, he tried to interview the police and tried to get some insight from them, and then there’s a statement from him, ‘We’re live on WBAI’ and then he goes down,” Warren said. Maitland can be heard on the tape saying, “We’re live on WBAI.”
“Obviously they knew what his mission was, they knew who he was,” Warren said.
After his arrest, Maitland was taken to the 72nd Precinct station house, where his attorney says he initially was denied medical treatment. “At first they resisted (allowing treatment), but then I reminded them of the possibility of civil liability,” Warren said. Maitland was then taken to the emergency room at Kings County Hospital. Eventually, he was admitted to the intensive cardiac-care unit.
Warren told the station that Maitland initially was handcuffed by one arm to his bed, and a police guard was stationed outside his room. But a reporter for Newsday, who visited Maitland on March 26, said the handcuffs were hanging from the bedpost.
McInnis said it was not true that Maitland was denied medical attention. According to McInnis, Maitland arrived at the station around 4:30 p.m., complained of asthma at approximately 6 p.m., at which point the Emergency Medical Service was called and arrived about 30 minutes later.
But, the police spokesman said, Maitland then chose to stay and have a 15-minute conversation with his lawyer before being transported to the hospital.
“That was his decision, as EMS stood by ready to treat him,” McInnis said. “There he informed doctors of a pre-existing heart condition, which he did not make known to any of the officers.”
On why an officer was stationed at his hospital door, McInnis said Maitland went to the hospital in the middle of the arrest process and was still under police custody.
“When it became evident that the arrest process would not be able to be completed,” McInnis said, “an officer remained with him until a desk appearance ticket was issued. That occurred Monday morning (March 27).”
Warren also expressed concern at a lack of news coverage of his client’s arrest.
“We had a full-blown press conference one day last week and we had media there from everywhere. (But) there was very little coverage. There was televised coverage but in terms of the print media there was very little,” Warren said. He attributed the lack of interest to the “influence that law-enforcement agencies have over the corporate-controlled media.”
Warren, who represents four other persons charged in the Dorismond protest, said Maitland, “if he’s able to move around, if he’s out of the hospital by then,” and most of the 26 others arrested would appear in court on April 13 as a result of the charges. Maitland is a producer for WBAI-Pacifica Radio’s local morning show, “Wake Up Call,” and technical director of Pacifica Radio’s daily national news magazine, “Democracy Now!”