For two decades, photojournalist Mannie Garcia had access to the White House, photographing several terms of Bushes and Clintons and now Obama.
The Vietnam veteran also photographed the fall of the Berlin Wall, genocide in Rwanda and the war in the Balkans.
But one of his worst experiences occurred as he stepped out of a restaurant in Maryland last year and saw police officers detaining two young men.
He pulled out a video camera and stood on the sidewalk recording.
Seconds later, a Montgomery County police officer walked up to him.
He ended up beaten up and jailed on a disorderly conduct charge.
This is how it was explained by Donald Winslow, editor of News Photographer, the official magazine of the National Press Photographers Association:
Garcia, 58, wasn’t physically close to the police, the suspects, or the cars. “I was across the street and about half a block up the street, toward the street light,” he says. “When an officer came up to me, I let the camera go, I opened up my hands, and I said, ‘I’m Mannie Garcia, and I’m with the press.’ Then two things happened at about the same time: he grabbed me by the neck and says, ‘That’s it, you’re under arrest’; and he pulled my arm behind me, put me in a choke hold, and started dragging me across the street. That’s about the time I hollered out, ‘Vicki!'”
The MCP officer accosting Garcia was C. P. Malouf. “He had me by the neck and he overwhelmed me,” Garcia said. The photographer says he offered no resistance. “The camera was around my neck, he could see there’s nothing in my hands, but he went for my neck, and by the neck he dragged me across the street. He assaulted me. He hit me, grabbed me, and while he did it he kept moving across the street. When I got to the police cruiser, I was shoved up against the cruiser a couple of times. I was handcuffed, and he kicked my right foot out from under me.”
Garcia says when the police picked him up off the ground, “they were laughing and he [Malouf] said, ‘Will you quit trying to hurt yourself?'”
The photojournalist says that his wife was approaching closer at that time, and one of the other officers yelled, “If that fucking bitch takes one more step I’m going to arrest her ass.” Garcia remembers that he shouted to his wife to step back. “And that’s when I got my head slammed into the car.”
When the police cruiser with Garcia got to the 4th District Station, he saw Malouf fiddle with the camera and then while they were parked in the station’s parking lot saw the officer figure out how to open it at the bottom.
“I saw him take the chip out,” Garcia said. Although he would eventually get his camera back, the memory chip was never accounted for.
In their police report, police claimed Garcia “threw himself to the ground, attempting to injure himself,” then threw himself against the car in an attempt to injure himself.
They claimed that in order to save Garcia from himself, they had to use force on him.
The case was delayed several times before it went to trial.
Meanwhile, Garcia’s press credentials expired, requiring him to reapply, which prompted the Secret Service to deny his request because he was immersed in a pending legal matter.
But as Winslow points out, the White House had essentially convicted him before he even went to trial, a clear violation of his Constitutional rights.
And this is the guy who snapped that famous photo of Obama that ended up being used by an artist in that pre-election Hope poster, which resulted in its own legal drama.
Many of us had hope that Obama would abide by the Constitution back then. But now many of us have lost hope.
A judge dismissed the charge against Garcia during a trial in December, not finding any credibility in the officers’ testimony, especially that part, I imagine, where he was throwing himself to the ground to hurt himself.
Garcia eventually got his White House press credentials renewed, but that doesn’t make up for the lost wages he suffered during the months he was not allowed back into the White House.
That is why he is now looking into filing a civil suit against the Montgomery Police Department.
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