by Phil Stilton
LACEY TOWNSHIP-It was at the scene of an accident in Lacey Township when Lacey Reporter freelance journalist Andrew Flinchbaugh was approached by officers from the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office who demanded the seizure of the reporter’s video equipment.
Officers told Flinchbaugh they were seizing his camera as evidence, but Flinchbaugh denied, instead offering the officers to watch the video and offered to provide a copy of the video to the officers.
Flinchbaugh’s recording of the video started after the arrival of police officers and the medevac helicopter which transported the patient, but not of the actual crash itself.
The officers interrogated Flinchbaugh who was permitted access to the scene by local firefighters blocking off the road.
“This is not a negotiation, I’m not negotiating with you,” the unidentified officer told Flinchbaugh.”
Flinchbaugh identified himself as a member of the media and the outlet he was working for, the Lacey Reporter, but officers insisted that he turn over the camera for evidence.
“What are you going to do with the video?” the officer asked.
“It’s for publication,” he responded.
After explaining to the officer that he could not give the officer his camera, the officer said, “I’m going to explain to you that I’m a law enforcement officer…there might be evidence on it.”
The matter was escalated to an unnamed higher ranking officer, claiming to be a lieutenant with the Prosecutor’s Office. Flinchbaugh explained to the officer that he is a freelance journalists for the Lacey Reporter.
Flinchbaugh told the higher ranking officer he would be happy to share the footage with the prosecutor’s office and said he would fully comply, but he would not allow the officers to seize the camera.
The situation appeared to be diffused, but officers returned shortly after, and presentede the journalist with an ultimatum.
“You can leave now….but not with the camera,” the officer told Flinchbaugh.
The officer then placed Flinchbaugh under arrest after his refusal to allow the officer to seize the camera and seized the camera. He was charged with obstruction after being handcuffed and booked at the local police station.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said, “We’ll probably be dismissing the charge against him.”
“I refused because I believe it’s our first amendment right,” Flinchbaugh said. “I don’t think they would treat other members of the corporate media this way.”
Coronato said the incident will be used in future training to Ocean County area law enforcement on how to hand situations involving video cameras at the scene of an investigation.
The Prosecutor’s Office offered no further comment on the incident.