Justin Thomas and David Rankin vs. the NYPD

Lawyer: Police stole memory card to cover up illegal arrest

The Brooklyn Paper
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Talk about getting carded!

A Bushwick-based filmmaker is suing the police department, claiming Sunset Park cops illegally arrested him for recording footage of their station house in April — and then confiscated his camera’s memory card to cover up the evidence.

School of Visual Arts student Justin Thomas said he was wrapping up his thesis documentary on Sunset Park with a couple shots of the 72nd Precinct’s Fourth Avenue headquarters at 11 am on April 19, when a sergeant came out and told him he needed a permit to tape there. Thomas said that when he informed the officer that the law gave him the unconditional right to film city property, the cop slapped the cuffs on him and took his camera away. Thomas was indignant at his arrest.

“I knew I had the right to record a public building from a public street,” he said.

Thomas said the police held him for three hours and charged him with “obstruction of governmental administra­tion” — charges which the district attorney’s office later declined to pursue.

The aspiring auteur’s attorney said cops returned his camera without the memory card containing the recording of Thomas’s interaction with the sergeant — a move the counselor claims was an attempt to hide proof of improper police conduct.

“The idea there was clearly to eliminate evidence of an unlawful arrest,” said lawyer David Rankin, best known for representing participants in the Critical Mass cycling protests.

Rankin said he was defending Thomas to take a stand for First Amendment rights, but said his client is also seeking an unspecified amount in restitution.

“We want to tell the NYPD that it’s completely inappropriate to arrest journalists and filmmakers in New York,” said Rankin.

The police department offered no comment, saying it had yet to process the paperwork on the lawsuit.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at
Updated 10:16 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

bkmanhatposeur from brokelyn says:
nasty cops. just stick to real criminals why bust on artist and cyclist.
Nov. 8, 2013, 8:40 am
o3 from bk says:
obviously he's guilty of various unspecified crimes which will be enforced at a later beatdown :/
Nov. 8, 2013, 9:01 am
Jay from Nyc says:
Just wondering, thought for the day, if people would stick up for this guy if he were a muslim, would that change things?
Nov. 8, 2013, 10:39 am
Richard Grayson from Williamsburg says:
Just wondering, thought for the day, if people would stick up for this guy if he were a muslim, would that change things?

Yes; no.
Nov. 8, 2013, 11:25 am
F. Lee from Foggy Bottom says:
Open and shut case that will be settled quickly in Mr. Thomas' favor. There go thousands of our tax dollars, again (at least it won't be millions this time).
Nov. 8, 2013, 11:30 am
Tom from Park Slope says:
Do you have any idea how much the memory card for a video camera can cost? Start with that, and then get into the punitives, could get hefty and it should come out of officers' money. Until they get hit personally they'll feel invulnerable.
Nov. 8, 2013, 11:40 am
Z from Bay Ridge says:
@Tom Depending on whether it was his personal equipment of the schools it may cost even more, as well as such thing as not being able to use the school equipment because it was damaged, lost, etc.
Nov. 8, 2013, 12:54 pm
Mark from Park Slope says:
Clearly those cops were being dicks. A film permit is not required for one guy with his camera on a tripod.

That said, when the cops came out and started giving him a hard time he should've had the sense to simply leave and not talk about his rights. Sure the cops were wrong but a little common sense would've saved him from being arrested.
Nov. 8, 2013, 1:39 pm
Billy from Elsewick says:

I generally would agree, but that kind of attitude allows this kind of police criminality to continue. The need to be fined so they know they can't do this kind of stuff.

And @Jay aka Richard. Nice slip up. As to your trolling comment, how do we know he was NOT a muslim? No one is bringing it up because it's a non-issue.
Nov. 8, 2013, 2:05 pm
Honey Conchita from Sunset Park says:
Look at his arrogant, smug face. Typical, spoiled bushwick baby. Oh, mommy and daddy - send more money! The police canceled my terrible, pointless movie! Wahh!

Nov. 8, 2013, 2:33 pm
Captain Block from 53rd Pct says:
72nd Pct CO should be in handcuffs just like old Officer Gray was... remember him?

Doesn't look like things have changed for the better too much down there does it?

Midget Ray Kelly destroyed the department and here's another reason why.

Justin deserves every $$$ his lawyer can get and then some.
Nov. 8, 2013, 3:20 pm
jay from nyc says:
no Billy you are not correct and no my name is not richard, but you clearly are a d**K. Nice try.
The reason I mention it is because I think that if this guy was a Muslim filming in front of a police house, a bunch of people on here would be saying he got what he deserved and should be sent to gitmo. Especially when you consider the bigoted comments made about the food carts in bay ridge and other posters. Thats why I asked, its something that is clearly beyond this article, but its a broader question that is still relevant to discrimination and police power in general.
Nov. 8, 2013, 6:58 pm
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
I can with absolute certainty that tripods for any reason require a permit, and I've been on enough shoots to know better.

That being said, the NYPD in this case are being the same kind of —— as they always have been. From Patrick Pogan to the 41 shots fired at Amadou Diallo to the torture of Abner Louima, the NYPD has shown themselves to be a pirate force only concerned with what they can gain for themselves and we the citizens are what they feed on.

The last time I had jury duty I made sure no one believed a word out of the NYPD lie factory, and I look forward to doing it again.
Nov. 9, 2013, 5:34 pm
Vinny Polack from Greenpoint says:
The NYPD was right to confiscate the memory card. For all we know, he could have been commissioned by criminals to film who comes in and out of the precinct. A few potential uses of such footage by criminals include seeing who is snitching to the police, seeing who is arrested (for gang recruitment), recording times and shifts of individual officers, and recording the identities of officers. There is no reason for a single filmmaker by himself to film a precinct. Considering his readiness to cite legal technicalities when the officer told him he was compromising the precinct's security, I would not be surprised if Justin Thomas did this intentionally to be able to sue the NYPD.
Nov. 10, 2013, 4:28 pm
Matk from Park Slope says:
@ Jim from Cobble Hill

A person out shooting alone with a camera and tripod does not need a permit.

"Permit not required when "Hand-held cameras or tripods are used and the person filming does not assert exclusive use of City property.""
Nov. 10, 2013, 5:42 pm
mmhmmm from bklyn says:
Vinny Polack says: "Considering his readiness to cite legal technicalities"

WHAT "legal technicalities"?
You mean he was being "uppity" by knowing photog-related law?
Nov. 10, 2013, 7:41 pm
bkmanhatposeur from brokleyn says:
I hope he gets his pay day in court and that the copsresponsible lose their job and pension.
Nov. 11, 2013, 9:50 am
David Mcfly Mims from Harlem says:
I was a victim of police brutality during the hurricane Sandy storm last year in Harlem. Police threw charges on me to try to cover the incident.
Nov. 12, 2013, 6:58 pm
Get Reel . from Bklyn heights says:
I agree the police are a problem for everybody , I wish that there would be a 3 day police strike nation wide, than we can all be left alone , just 3 days with out the police bugging all of us .
Nov. 18, 2013, 10:15 pm

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