By Mandy Hofmockel
Penn State Judicial Affairs will not sanction The Daily Collegian photographer Michael Felletter after he was charged in connection with the Oct. 25 riot, a result his attorney said showed the university “understood the prominent First Amendment issues involved.”
Andrew Shubin, a private attorney acting on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), attended Felletter’s Judicial Affairs conference Wednesday and said the university issued no sanctions and found no violations against the photographer.
Shubin, a member of the Board of Directors for the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the ACLU, called the decision “an excellent result and the correct result.”
Although he hadn’t yet heard of the university’s decision, Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira said Felletter (junior-visual journalism) could still be found guilty in a court of law. Even though Judicial Affairs examined some of the same police documents Madeira is using for his case, the review process for the university is different, the prosecutor said. For now, the criminal charges stand.
“We’re not charging him with violating a code of ethics,” he said. “You’re charging him with violating criminal law.”
Felletter attended the Oct. 25 riot in Beaver Canyon following Penn State’s football victory over Ohio State because he was assigned to do so by his editor, Shubin said, adding his client was not present to celebrate and acted responsibly. Felletter was charged with two misdemeanors, failure to disperse and disorderly conduct, according to the criminal complaint.
A State College Police officer witnessed Felletter taking pictures and told him to leave the area at about midnight, according to the criminal complaint. About 20 minutes later, the same officer again told him to leave, police said.
After 20 more minutes, the officer saw the photographer and took his driver’s license, police said.
Why, Shubin asked, would police arrest a photographer for exercising his First Amendment-protected right to document news?
“Do we want to arrest the press for responsibly covering an incident?” Shubin said. “That to me is un-American and unconstitutional.”
Felletter said his attorney advised him not to comment on the Judicial Affairs ruling.
Terry Casey, editor in chief of The Collegian, said he and the Collegian Board of Editors have maintained Felletter has not broken the law — the photographer had a right to be in the vicinity and left when he was told, he said.
“We stood by the belief that Mike had not done anything wrong, and the Collegian Board of Editors has made that clear against the police charges,” Casey (senior-journalism) said.
The Office of Judicial Affairs did not comment on Felletter’s case, as it does not reveal information about any specific student cases.
Although the two processes are separate and will not affect each other, Shubin said he hopes Madeira will come to the same conclusion Judicial Affairs reached.
“I’m hopeful that he will look at the constitutional issues involved,” Shubin said. “I don’t think that the State College Police are expected to be constitutional scholars — I think the District Attorney’s office is.”
Felletter’s preliminary hearing for his criminal charges is scheduled for Jan. 21.