Judge Orders Sanctions Against Atlanta Police Department for Obstructing Filming Police Conduct

May 14th, 2015 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , ,

ATLANTA– On May 13, 2015, United States District Judge Steve C. Jones found the City of Atlanta in contempt of court and imposed sanctions for the city’s failure to comply with obligations set forward in a prior Court Order on behalf of a woman whose constitutional rights were violated when she was arrested as she peaceably photographed police activity in 2009.

The Southern Center for Human Rights, along with Atlanta based attorneys Daniel J. Grossman and Albert Wan, presented arguments on April 28, 2015, for civil contempt sanctions against the City of Atlanta in Anderson v. City of Atlanta, et al. The plaintiff, Felicia Anderson, brought this case against the City of Atlanta and one of its police officers for falsely arresting her as she photographed police arresting her neighbor. The parties ultimately reached a settlement on Ms. Anderson’s claims in 2012. In addition to damages, the parties agreed to a Consent Order requiring the City of Atlanta to permanently revise and implement a number of APD policies and trainings that would set strict limits on officer’s interference with citizens documenting police activity.

In November 2014, several reporters covering the Ferguson demonstrations in downtown Atlanta had their cameras taken away from them by APD officers as these individuals attempted to film police activity. One of them was a photojournalist for 11Alive News, whose arrest by police officers during his coverage of the protests has been the subject of numerous news stories. Another was a reporter for Creative Loafing; Atlanta police officers intentionally stopped him from taking photos during the protest, grabbed his camera, and then arrested him, even as he and his editor repeatedly told the officers that he was a reporter. These are but a few examples of the actual damage that came to light as a result of the City’s failure to abide by this Court’s order, including interference with citizens and reporters filming police.

Judge Jones stated, “The Court finds Defendant in contempt for violating the March 2012 Order… and it now imposes sanctions to bring Defendant into full compliance and to address future monitoring of Defendant’s compliance with the Order.”

“The Court has now found the City in contempt based, in part, on the City’s own admissions that it failed to comply with the Court’s Order,” said attorney Albert Wan. “ The next few weeks and months will be telling. Will the City treat the Court’s order with the seriousness it deserves, or will it revert back to its old ways? All eyes are on the City to see what it will do, and they should be. As recent events have shown, the public’s right to document police conduct is an important one, and the City needs to recognize that. It can start by fully complying with the Court’s Order.”

Judge Jones ordered the following:
• Permanently implement the revisions to the Atlanta Police Department Standard Operating Procedures set forth in the Court’s March 2012 Order
• Conduct mandatory, in-person training of all Atlanta police officers every two years regarding the Standard Operating Procedure revisions set forth the Court’s March 2012 Order
• Within forty-five days, the Chief of the Atlanta Police Department shall issue a Command Memorandum to each APD officer attaching a copy of the 2012 Consent Order, requiring that it be read and signed. The City of Atlanta shall provide the Court and the Plaintiff with a sworn statement attesting that this has been accomplished within ten days after the 45-day period of compliance has expired. The City of Atlanta shall be fined $10,000 per day after the 45-day period of compliance has expired if the City of Atlanta fails to comply.
• Within forty-five days, the City of Atlanta shall provide in-person, roll call training consistent with the industry standard to every police officer of the Atlanta Police Department on every revision to the Atlanta Police Department Standard Operating Procedures required under the March 2012 Order. The Atlanta Police Department is required to video solely this portion of the Atlanta Police Department’s in-person, roll call training. The City of Atlanta must provide Plaintiff’s counsel with a copy of each video within ten days of the in-person, roll call training. The City of Atlanta shall be fined $10,000 per day after the period of compliance has expired if the City of Atlanta fails to comply.
• The City of Atlanta, within five days, must report to the Court and Plaintiff any revisions made to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) at issue in the 2012 Consent Order.
• The City of Atlanta will reimburse Plaintiff’s counsel for a portion of fees and costs associated with ensuring compliance with the Court’s Order.

“Almost every week we see the crucial importance of citizen video as a tool for police accountability. It is a shame that City Hall fought against this for almost six months, and that it took a federal judge to hold the city in contempt and order it to provide the training that even Atlanta’s police officers themselves were asking for,” said attorney Daniel J. Grossman.

“It should not have taken over three years for the Atlanta Police Department to respect citizens’ rights to video police conduct as required by Judge Jones order. The Court has shown, and the national conscience has shown, that cameras are an important tool in ensuring police are held accountable,” said Southern Center for Human Rights attorney, Gerald Weber.

To read the Contempt Order go to: Atlanta Contempt Order – Anderson 05-13-15

Posted in Access, Atlanta Police Department, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, News Photography, Newsgathering, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police | No Comments »

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