The American Civil Liberties Union is now involved in the riot case of a Daily Collegian photographer, which an affiliated lawyer said contained “profound” First Amendment issues.
A private attorney on the Board of Directors for the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the ACLU, Andrew Shubin, said he accepted the case because he believes in the importance of freedom of the press.
“We think that there is a First Amendment issue having to do with freedom of the press,” Shubin said, adding the Centre County District Attorney’s office is looking at that “seriously and with an open mind.”
Michael Felletter (junior-visual journalism), 20, was on assignment for The Daily Collegian during the Oct. 25 riot that ensued in Beaver Canyon following Penn State’s victory over Ohio State.
Felletter has been charged with failure to disperse, a second-degree misdemeanor, and disorderly conduct, a third-degree misdemeanor, after police say he failed to leave the area of the riot despite multiple orders from police.
A State College Police officer told Felletter to leave the area at about midnight the night of the incident, according to the criminal complaint.
Soon after, Felletter was seen taking pictures of officers attempting to arrest a subject, police said. Officers again told him to leave, police said, and Felleter’s driver’s license was taken 20 minutes later.
Shubin took on the case on behalf of the ACLU, which asked him to get involved after Collegian General Manager Gerry Hamilton contacted the organization about Felletter’s case. Shubin said he will not charge a fee.
“The ACLU is fully committed to this case,” Hamilton said. “I’m obviously pleased for any support we get, and I am fully supporting Michael.”
Terry Casey, editor in chief of the Collegian, said he and the Collegian’s Board of Editors also continue to support Felletter. He added the ACLU’s involvement is “promising.”
“We’re not the only ones who see this as a violation of First Amendment rights,” he said. “The ACLU has a history of making it clear what they stand for, and hopefully this is one of those instances.”
Shubin said he met with a representative from the district attorney’s office and the lead detective in the case, raising the question of First Amendment violations.
He also said the defense provided the prosecution with some additional evidence deemed important to review. Shubin did not comment on the evidence and also would not comment on what the defense will present at Felletter’s preliminary hearing, which was continued Wednesday until Jan. 21.
The decision to postpone the preliminary hearing was collaborative and in everybody’s best interests, Shubin said.
Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira said Felletter just retained an attorney last week and there was not an opportunity to sit down and discuss the case.
The two sides will be talking about possible testimony at a future date, Madeira said.
“I’m grateful that the Commonwealth has agreed to look into the case closely,” Shubin said.