First Amendment Advocate Sues NYPD, NYC Over Right to Record Police Activity
A crusader for citizens’ rights to record police officers performing their duties in public has sued the City of New York and several police officers, seeking monetary damages for unlawful arrest, and a declaratory judgment in defense of citizens’ constitutional rights to record police without fear of intimidation or retribution.
Plaintiff Debra Goodman asserts in her lawsuit that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) “maintains a policy, practice and custom in which officers interfere with there rights of individuals who….are recording or attempting to record officers performing their official duties in public” and that top brass in the police department is ignoring the problem. Goodman sued July 14 in US District Court in New York City.
Goodman claims she was on a public sidewalk September 25, 2013 trying to record an interaction between a wheelchair-bound homeless person and police and emergency medical technicians. She was standing about 30 feet away from the scene, and “was not obstructing or interfering with the police officers,” when an officer approached her and began recording Goodman with his own cell phone, according to her lawsuit.
Goodman told the officer that she had the right to record him, but he didn’t have the right to record her, which resulted in a “verbal exchange” that ended quickly with Goodman’s arrest. According to her complaint, she was roughed up during the arrest and held for 25 hours.
Goodman asserts in her suit that the arrest was “motivated and substantially caused by [her] attempt to record events” and that police “demonstrated a callous indifference to and willful disregard of [Goodman's] federal and state protected rights.”
Prosecutors eventually dropped criminal charges against her; her lawsuit doesn’t specify what those charges were.
According to the lawsuit, Goodman regularly recorded police activity during the two years leading up to her arrest because “she believes such recording and posting on social media helps to ensure the police remain accountable to the public and prevents police misconduct.”
Goodman’s lawsuit cites two examples of NYPD officer misconduct coming to light because of video recordings made by eyewitnesses. In one case, an officer was fired for shoving a man violently off a bicycle, then claiming the bicyclist had run into him. In another case, the City of New York refused to defend a police officer in a civil lawsuit after he was caught on video using pepper spray on two women during an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011.
To bolster her claim that NYPD has a pattern of interfering with citizens who record them, Goodman cites several incidents in which police allegedly arrested citizens for recording them, forcibly deleted videos showing policy activity, or ordered citizens to erase videos in order to avoid arrest.
Goodman’s lawsuit also cites cases in other cities–including Boston, Baltimore, and Indianapolis–where courts have upheld the constitutional rights of citizens to record police, and police departments have agreed to institute programs to train rank-and-file police officers about those rights.
In addition to asking the court for a declaratory judgment in defense of her own and others’ constitutional rights, Goodman is seeking a permanent injunction against the city and the NYPD from retaliating against anyone who “records or attempts to record” police officers performing their duties in public. She is also seeking unspecified damages for violation of her First, Fourth, and Fourtheenth Amendment rights, as well as for assault and battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.
The City of New York has yet to file a response to Goodman’s lawsuit.
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