April 17th, 2014

Baltimore To Pay $250K for Videos Deleted by Police: A Vindication of Photographers’ Rights

Christopher Sharp, plaintiff in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department

Christopher Sharp, plaintiff in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department (source: ACLU video)

The City of Baltimore and its police department have agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a claim of unlawful seizure and destruction of cell phone videos that belonged to a citizen who allegedly recorded police arresting and beating another person.

Police have admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed as part of the settlement to issue a written apology to Christopher Sharp, the plaintiff in the case.

In addition, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD)  has agreed to adopt a comprehensive and detailed written policy intended to protect the rights of citizens to photograph and record police activity from anywhere those citizens have a legal right to be, without interference or intimidation from police. (more…)

July 25th, 2012

DC Police Department Issues Order Affirming Photographers’ Rights

To settle a right-to-photograph lawsuit filed by an aspiring photojournalist and the ACLU, the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department has issued a general order stating that “a bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record [DC police officers] in the public discharge of their duties.”

The order instructs police not to interfere with anyone photographing police activity as long as the photographer is standing in a public setting or private facility where they have the right to be, and as long as they are not interfering with police activity.

The order also reminds police that still and video photography “of places, buildings, structures and events are common and lawful activities.” And it spells out the limited terms and conditions under which police can seize recordings for evidence.

For photographers and civil rights activists fighting what they perceive as a rising tide of police intimidation and interference against photographers nationwide, the order represents progress. It follows closely a blueprint for police policy to protect the rights of photographers that the US Department of Justice issued earlier this year.

The DOJ blueprint was directed at the Baltimore Police Department, which is being sued for unlawfully seizing, searching and deleting the contents of a citizen’s cell phone after he used it to record police officers making an arrest. The Baltimore Police Department subsequently issued an order declaring that citizens had the right to photograph police activity. But the DOJ said the Baltimore order didn’t go far enough to protect photographers’ (and citizens’) rights because it wasn’t specific enough.

The order issued last week by the Washington DC police department follows the DOJ blueprint almost to the letter, spelling out citizens’ constitutional rights, providing explanations and examples of legal activity and limited exceptions.

The lawsuit lodged against DC police was similar to the case in Baltimore. Jerome Vorus, a student and aspiring photojournalist, began photographing a traffic stop in the Georgetown neighborhood of DC in June, 2010. Police officers told him he was not allowed to photograph, and detained him for half an hour. With help from the ACLU, Vorus sued police for violating his rights. Vorus and the ACLU dropped the claim last week after police agreed to issue the order protecting the right of citizens who photograph the police.

The case in Baltimore, meanwhile, is still pending.

Related stories:
Department of Justice Warns Police Agains Violating Photographers’ Rights
Police Intimidation Watch: Mannie Garcia Files $500K Lawsuit for Unlawful Arrest
Police Intimidation Watch: Photographer Sues Long Island Police Department
Police Intimidation Watch: Boston to Pay $170K for Wrongful Arrest of Videographer

March 28th, 2012

Police Intimidation Watch: Boston to Pay $170K for Wrongful Arrest of Videographer

The City of Boston has agreed to pay $170,000 to settle a civil lawsuit for the wrongful arrest of a man for videotaping police as they arrested another man on the Boston Common in 2007.

The settlement, announced yesterday of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, resulted from a federal court ruling that the First Amendment protects the right to record police carrying out their duties in a public place. That ruling, issued last August by the US Court of Appeals in Boston, is binding only in New England (excluding Connecticut) and Puerto Rico, where the court has jurisdiction. (Glik v. Cunniffe 655 F.3d 78 (2011))

“[B]ut its persuasive reasoning has been cited by courts and lawyers nationwide facing the recurrent issue of police arresting people for filming them,” the ACLU asserts.

Police have arrested citizens in several states for video taping them, on the grounds that wiretapping statutes in those states prohibit recording anyone without their consent.

“The law had been clear for years that openly recording a video is not a crime,” said Simon Glik, the plaintiff in the Boston case, in the ACLU announcement.

Glik, who is an attorney, was arrested in October, 2007 after he saw police arresting a teenager on the Boston Common, and began making a video of the arrest with his cell phone. Police arrested Glik on criminal charges of illegal wiretapping and disturbing the peace.

After the charges were dismissed, Glik sued the City of Boston on the grounds that Boston police had violated his civil rights. In addition to finding that Glik’s First Amendment rights had been violated, the US Court of Appeals ruled that his Fourth Amendment rights had also be violated on the grounds of wrongful arrest.

Related:
Police Intimidation Watch: Beating a Photojournalist on a Lisbon Street
A Sign of Restive Times: Policeman Punches Photojournalist