A Daily Collegian photographer who was on assignment during an Oct. 25 downtown riot has been charged with two misdemeanors, State College Police said.
Michael Felletter (junior-visual journalism), 20, 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.
According to the criminal complaint, State College Police Officer Nick Argiro saw Felletter taking photographs and told him to leave the area at about midnight. About 20 minutes later, Argiro saw Felletter taking photographs of officers attempting to arrest a subject, and Argiro again ordered Felletter to leave, police said.
About 20 minutes later, Argiro saw Felletter and took his driver's license from him, police said.
Another officer later told Argiro he saw Felletter taking photographs and also told him twice to leave the area, police said. Police said they told Felletter he "was causing the crowd to become more exhuberant [sic], excited, and destructive."
Felletter said the Collegian's photo chief contacted him after the football game and told him to "be safe, but go shoot" the events.
Felletter said he identified himself as a member of The Collegian staff after he told an officer people were throwing objects at the backs of other officers. He said that officer expressed no problem with him being there.
He said the first time an officer asked him to leave was when Argiro said, "Get the f--- off my street" as Felletter was taking photographs at the intersection of Locust Lane and Beaver Avenue. He said Argiro threatened to arrest him and held two cans of pepper spray to his face.
Felletter said Argiro followed him and he took photographs of Argiro over his shoulder until Argiro again threatened him with pepper spray, demanding his driver's license.
Argiro could not be reached for comment by press time.
Terry Casey, editor in chief of The Collegian, said Felletter was covering the events that took place after Penn State's football victory.
"He took some photos, and when he was asked to leave, he left the area," Casey said. "The Collegian stands behind its staff members."
Collegian General Manager Gerry Hamilton said he was informed of the charges against Felletter Thursday afternoon and had not yet had an opportunity to contact The Collegian's attorney.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel at the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said there should be no charges if a media member is doing his or her job, though she said she couldn't comment specifically on Felletter's case without knowing the details.
"Reporting doesn't equal criminal conduct," she said. "If it's a newsworthy event, the media has the constitutional right to report. Criminal charges shouldn't be used as a deterrent to First Amendment privileges."
However, she said, the rights aren't absolute. For example, with safety concerns, journalists should take police advice.
Melewsky added photographers and reporters should have some way to clearly identify themselves as members of the press.
Felletter said he was not informed of the charges against him until The Collegian received a press release from police listing the names of people charged.
"I'm worried about having a criminal record," Felletter said. "But at the same time, I'm not worried about standing up for my rights. I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was just doing my job."