Charges dropped against student arrested while taping police

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 2:06 PM

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — Criminal charges were dropped Friday against a suburban New York college student arrested while taking a video of two friends being arrested.

Charges of resisting arrest, obstruction and drug possession were dismissed against Thomas Demint, a 21-year-old Long Island college student, defense attorney Kenneth Mollins told The Associated Press. A spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney confirmed the case was dropped during a court proceeding Friday morning "in the interest of justice," but declined to comment further.

Police arrested Demint in May 2014 after he recorded video depicting officers slamming the mother of his two friends to the ground because they said she tried to interfere in one of her sons' arrest. Earlier in the video, the woman is hit by a stun gun.

"My client is ecstatic that justice was done after 18 months," said Mollins, who scheduled a Monday press conference to discuss plans to file a $2 million lawsuit against county officials, claiming false arrest. A county spokeswoman declined to comment, saying officials do not discuss pending litigation.

"He felt he was put in a position where people automatically thought he did something wrong," Mollins said of Demint.

Civil liberties experts say Demint's arrest is part of a growing trend of citizen videographers getting arrested after trying to record police behavior.

Demint came forward last summer to discuss his arrest; he said he had previously been afraid to speak publicly about the case fearing retribution from police.

"I didn't do anything wrong. I was just there to videotape," Demint told reporters.

A criminal complaint alleged Demint was "hostile, combative and using profanity toward the arresting officer and intentionally attempted to prevent a lawful arrest by walking away and refused to comply with verbal commands as the officer attempted to put handcuffs on him."

The eight-minute video does not depict officers arresting Demint, who said he had stopped recording moments before he was tackled by three officers. He claims the officers attempted to erase the video from his phone but mistakenly erased another video.

The video depicts a chaotic scene outside a Center Moriches home in which two men are repeatedly using profanity while they are being handcuffed. The mother of the men is seen running toward officers, who are arresting one of her sons; an officer grabs her and she's knocked to the ground.

Court records indicate the case against one of the men, Anthony Allen, has been sealed. His brother, Michael Allen, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation, last December and was given a conditional discharge.

The drug charge stems from Demint's arrest several weeks later when officers pulled him over during a traffic stop and found a painkiller pill in his pocket. Mollins said the painkiller belonged to Demint's mother, and she held a valid prescription for it.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association, has said he hears of "almost four incidents a week" in which police either harass, interfere or arrest citizens for shooting video. He notes this is occurring as many police departments are deploying body cameras on officers. "Citizens can record police and police can record citizens when either is out on the street in a public place."

Suffolk County police officers do not wear body cameras; the department has applied for a grant to begin a study of their use.