|Cell Phone Picture Called Obstruction Of Justice
Man Arrested For Shooting Photo Of Police Activity
NBC 10 | July 26, 2006
PHILADELPHIA -- A Philadelphia family said they are outraged over the arrest of one of their family members.
The family of Neftaly Cruz said police had no right to come onto their property and arrest their 21-year-old son simply because he was using his cell phone's camera. They told their story to Harry Hairston and the NBC 10 Investigators.
"I was humiliated. I was embarrassed, you know," Cruz said.
Cruz, 21, told the NBC 10 Investigators that police arrested him last Wednesday for taking a picture of police activity with his cell phone.
Police at the 35th district said they were in Cruz's neighborhood that night arresting a drug dealer.
Cruz said that when he heard a commotion, he walked out of his back door with his cell phone to see what was happening. He said that when he saw the street lined with police cars, he decided to take a picture of the scene.
"I opened (the phone) and took a shot," Cruz said.
Moments later, Cruz said he got the shock of his life when an officer came to his back yard gate.
"He opened the gate and took me by my right hand," Cruz said.
Cruz said the officer threw him onto a police car, cuffed him and took him to jail.
A neighbor said she witnessed the incident and could not believe what she saw.
"He opened up the gate and Neffy was coming down and he went up to Neffy, pulled him down, had Neffy on the car and was telling him, 'You should have just went in the house and minded your own business instead of trying to take pictures off your picture phone,'" said Gerrell Martin.
Cruz said police told him that he broke a new law that prohibits people from taking pictures of police with cell phones.
"They threatened to charge me with conspiracy, impeding an investigation, obstruction of a investigation. … They said, 'You were impeding this investigation.' (I asked,) "By doing what?' (The officer said,) 'By taking a picture of the police officers with a camera phone,'" Cruz said.
Cruz's parents, who got him out of jail, said police told them the same thing.
"He said he was taking pictures with his cell phone and that was obstructing an investigation," said Aracelis Cruz, Neftaly Cruz's mother.
The NBC 10 Investigators asked the ACLU union how they viewed the incident.
"There is no law that prevents people from taking pictures of what anybody can see on the street," said Larry Frankel of the American Civil Liberties Union. "I think it's rather scary that in this country you could actually be taken down to police headquarters for taking a picture on your cell phone of activities that are clearly visible on the street."
Frankel said Cruz's civil rights might have been violated.
"He was unlawfully seized, which is a violation of the 4th amendment the last time we checked," Frankel said.
Cruz, a Penn State University senior, said that after about an hour police told him he was lucky because there was no supervisor on duty, so they released him.
"They said if the supervisor was there I wouldn't be a free man and that he is letting me go because he felt that I was a good person," Cruz said.
Police told Hairston that they did take Cruz into to custody, but they said Cruz was not on his property when they arrested him. Police also denied that they told Cruze he was breaking the law with his cell phone. Cruz's famly said it has filed a formal complaint with the police department's Internal Affairs division and are requesting a complete investigation.