Although Federal courts have upheld the rights of citizens to record police activities in public, police and other law enforcement officers continue to intimidate and often wrongfully arrest people who do it.
For instance, on Sunday, photographer Carlos Miller and a friend were assaulted by armed thugs at the Miami-Dade Metrorail. Miller’s crime? He was using his phone to video the station.
Miller runs the website Photography Is Not A Crime, so he knew he was well within his rights to photograph public places as well as his police encounter. He already has a lawsuit pending against Miami-Dade Metrorail for a previous assault by a security guard. The latest incident will probably escalate the suit to Federal court.
The American Civil Liberties Union last week filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Temple University photojournalism student who was arrested by Philadelphia police two years ago.
Chris Montgomery and a friend were in downtown Philadelphia when they saw a dispute involving a group of teens. When police responded, Montgomery used his iPhone to record the action. Police later approached Montgomery and told him to stop recording. Montgomery was arrested, his phone was confiscated and he was held in a cell for 45 minutes. When he was released, the video had been deleted from his phone.
The complaint is the first of several that the Pennsylvania ACLU plans to file alleging retaliatory behavior by officers, attorney Mary Catherine Roper told The Washington Post. It seeks monetary damages and confirmation of the public’s right to videotape.
“It is not and, under our Constitution, could not be a crime,” the lawsuit states.
According to the suit, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey issued a memo several months after Montgomery’s arrest instructing officers to allow themselves to be recorded in public. But two people were arrested for videotaping a traffic stop six months after the memo was issued.
All police encounters should be videotaped. Technology has made this a simple task.
However, don’t count on thuggish law enforcement officers respecting your right to do so.