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First Circuit broadens citizens’ right to record police officers in public

June 16th, 2014 by Tyler Wilson and tagged , , , , ,

The constitutionally protected right to record police officers on duty in public places such as parks, which was affirmed in Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011), has been affirmed by the First Circuit to not only include parks and other traditional public places, but now even routine traffic stops.

In Glik, the plaintiff filmed several Boston police officers arresting a young man on the Boston Commons. The court in Glik held that the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to videotape police officers performing their duties in public, recognizing that it firmly establishes and protects “a range of conduct” surrounding the gathering and dissemination of information. Id. at 82.

The recently decided case of Gericke v Weare broadens this right to include routine traffic stops, concluding that a traffic stop does not extinguish an individual’s right to film. The main question that was presented in Gericke was whether a a routine traffic stop was a police duty carried out in public. The court said yes and compared Glik with Gericke, stating that “those First Amendment principles apply equally to the filming of a traffic stop and the filming of an arrest in a public park. In both instances, the subject of filming is police carrying out their duties in public.” Id.

But the court recognized that there may be some limitations on this right because the circumstances of a traffic stop can potentially become dangerous to an officer, if for example in this case, firearms are present in the stopped vehicle.  Such limitations may come into play when a police officer’s ability to perform his duties are actually impaired.

Reasonable restrictions, such as those of time, place, and manner, on the exercise of the right to film may be imposed when the circumstances justify them. See Glik, 655 F.3d at 84. A police officer can order filming to cease only when he/she can reasonably articulate that the filming itself is interfering, or is about to interfere, with his/her duties. Glik established that a reasonable officer cannot, consistently with the Constitution, prosecute citizens for violating wiretapping laws when they peacefully record a police officer performing his or her official duties in a public area.” Id. (emphasis added).

In Gericke, since there was a genuine factual dispute about whether the plaintiff had been disruptive, the court denied the officers’ motions for summary
judgment on the retaliatory prosecution claim stemming from the wiretapping charge. The First Amendment right to film police activity carried out in public,
including a traffic stop, necessarily remains unrestricted unless it is deemed to be disruptive.

**** Update: Shortly after the decision, the Town of Weare settled the lawsuit for $57,500

Posted in Boston Police, cell phone cameras, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Glik v Cunniffe, Police, Recording, Recording Police, Simon Glik, Uncategorized, video cameras, violating | No Comments »

NPPA files Amicus Brief Supporting Right to Photograph and Record Police in Public

June 2nd, 2014 by Tyler Wilson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The NPPA filed an Amicus Brief today in a federal civil rights lawsuit involving an Austin, Texas man, who says that police violated his constitutional right to photograph and/or film police in a public setting.

In his complaint Antonio Francis Buehler alleged that he was arrested on a number of occasions while recording Austin Police officers performing their official duties in public places. As a result of these incidents Buehler formed the Peaceful Streets Project, a group which routinely videotapes police officers in the city.

Buehler filed suit against the Austin Police Department and several police officers for violations of his civil rights. The defendants in the lawsuit then moved to dismiss the suit, and claimed “qualified immunity,” which protects government officials from being the subjects of lawsuits unless they have violated a clearly established constitutional right.

“The NPPA chose to file an amicus brief so early in this case because of the extraordinary and incredulous claim by the Austin Police Department that ‘the Fifth Circuit does not recognize photographing/videotaping police officers as a constitutional right,’” said NPPA Advocacy Chair Alicia Calzada.

The brief counters the police department’s argument that the “First Amendment right to videotape law enforcement is not a cognizable claim,” as being incorrect as a matter of law and also because it frames the issue far too narrowly.  Rather, the constitutional right to film police officers while on duty has been well established for decades through numerous constitutional decisions that protect the “coextensive” rights of journalists and members of the public to gather information and to hold government officials accountable for their actions, as the First Circuit Court of Appeals held in the 2011 case of Glik v. Cunniffe. In Glik, a citizen was arrested after using his cell phone to photograph Boston police officers he believed were using excessive force in effectuating an arrest. After his charges were dismissed, Glik filed a civil action against the Boston Police Department and won because the First Circuit observed that a citizen’s right to film police officers on duty is a “basic, vital, and well-established liberty protected by the First Amendment.”

Several other cases have affirmed that the right to film police officers while on duty is clear and unambiguous, thus further weakening the Austin Police Department’s dubious claim. Most recently, the First Circuit reaffirmed this principle, denying qualified immunity in a case that involved videotaping police during a traffic stop in the case of Gericke v Begin. The court in Gericke explained that some constitutional principles are self-evident and do not need to have a case directly on point.

The United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has also affirmed this right in  multiple Statements of Interest, explaining that over eighty years of precedent, going back to the 1931 case of Near v. Minnesota, stand for the proposition that “government action intended to prevent the dissemination of information critical of government officials, including police officers, constitutes an invalid prior restraint on the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

The law is also clear that these constitutional protections apply as much to individuals as they do the institutional press, something the NPPA has consistently noted. “NPPA has always fought to uphold the right to photograph and record in public for everyone,” said NPPA Generasl Counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher. “While the press may not have any greater right of access than the public, they have no less right either and the last thing we want is for the government to be the arbiter of who is entitled to ‘Free Speech’ or ‘Free Press’ First Amendment protection,” he added.

The amicus brief was drafted pro bono by attorneys Robert Corn-Revere, Ronald London, and Alison B. Schary, with the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, who have generously supported this and other NPPA efforts to promote and uphold the right to take pictures in public. Corn-Revere, London and Schary were recipients of the 2013 NPPA Kenneth P. McLaughlin Award of Merit for their efforts in support of the First Amendment.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Austin Police, Boston Police, cell phone cameras, Department of Justice, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Glik v Cunniffe, law, Lawsuit, Legal, Newsgathering, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording, Recording Police, Simon Glik, Texas | 6 Comments »

Boston paying $170k for videography arrest

March 27th, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Boston Globe is reporting that the City of Boston has paid $170,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed against them after they arrested a man for photographing police activity on the Boston Commons.

The underlying case was the subject of an earlier appellate ruling which held that “peaceful recording of an arrest in a public space that does not interfere with the police officers’ performance of their duties is not reasonably subject to limitation.” Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 84 (1st Cir. 2011).

The case began over four years ago, when Simon Glik was walking past the Boston Commons and noticed three police officers arresting a man. An attorney who believed that the officers might be using excessive force, Glik began recording with his cell phone. Police arrested Glik and charged him with, among other things, violations of the wiretap statute. All charges against him were either dropped or dismissed and Glik filed a federal suit alleging that officers violated his civil rights. The officers argued official qualified immunity but the court denied it, and an appellate court upheld the ruling, holding that “a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.” Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 85 (1st Cir. 2011).

The Boston Police Department initially defended the officers and in 2008 issued a memo stating that the two officers involved did nothing wrong, but back in January the department stated that the two officers would face discipline and used “ureasonable judgment,” according to the Globe.

See other articles on the case by Massacusetts Lawyers Weekly, ARS Technica, and Carlos Miller’s blog.

Read an earlier NPPA post on the First Circuit decision of Glik v. Cunniffe.

Posted in Boston Police, Cameras, cell phone cameras, First Amendment, Massachusetts ACLU, Newsgathering, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording, Recording Police, video cameras, Wiretap Law | 92 Comments »

$1.4 Million to man who was beaten by police while recording them

March 16th, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , ,

The city of Boston will be paying out $1.4 million to a man who was tackled by police while videotaping.

According to the Boston Globe, Michael O’Brien accused a police officer of knocking him to the ground while he was videotaping another police officer with a cell phone.

Read the full story here.

Boston is also the city where attorney Simon Glik case was arrested for videotaping police arresting and beating a man in the Boston Commons. The First Circuit, a federal appeals court, recently ruled that Glik’s First Amendment rights were violated by the arrest.

Posted in Access, Boston Police, First Amendment, Massachusetts ACLU, Newsgathering, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording, Recording Police, video cameras, Wiretap Law | 53 Comments »

New Developments in the Ongoing Assault on the Right to Photograph/Record in Public

January 12th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

January 10, 2012 might not be a day that any real headlines were made but in the ongoing assault on the right to photograph/record in public, events took place in two separate cases that may mark the start of a change in how this issue is viewed by the courts and police. First, in the United States District Court for The District Of Maryland, the Department of Justice filed an 18 page ““Statement of Interest of The United States” ” Sharp v. Baltimore City Police, et al.

According to the complaint, filed by the ACLU of Maryland in August 2011, “this is a civil rights action challenging as unconstitutional the Baltimore City Police Department’s warrantless arrest and detention of plaintiff Christopher Sharp, as well as the seizure and destruction of Mr. Sharp’s property, premised upon Mr. Sharp’s exercise of his rights under the federal and Maryland constitutions to document the conduct of City police officers performing their public duties in a public place.”

That complaint which was filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City Maryland and later removed to federal court stems from an incident in which Christopher Sharp videotaped police using excessive force to effectuate the arrest of a female friend while they were in the Pimlico Race Course Clubhouse at the 2010 Preakness Stakes. Video taken of the beating by another observer can be found on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWF3Ddr7vdc.

Sharp refused police requests to surrender his video as “evidence”, whereupon it is alleged that police “seized his cell phone, and detained him while one officer left the area with the phone. After the officers returned the phone, Mr. Sharp discovered that the officers had deleted video of the arrest and all other videos that had been stored on the device, including numerous videos of his young son and other personal events.”

“This litigation presents constitutional questions of great moment in this digital age: whether private citizens have a First Amendment right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties, and whether officers violate citizens’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they seize and destroy such recordings without a warrant or due process. The United States urges this Court to answer both of those questions in the affirmative” the DOJ statement read in what is believed to be the first time it has weighed in on the issue of recording police. “The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution. They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.”

In the second case, Glik v Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011) (denying qualified immunity to officer on arrestee’s First and Fourth Amendment claims), the Boston Police Department concluded an almost four (4) year internal investigation. In a letter to Mr. Glik, cell phone cinematographer Simon Glik, superintendent Kenneth Fong of the Boston Police Department’s Bureau of Professional Standards said that officers had shown “unreasonable judgment” by taking him into custody.

By way of background – while walking through Boston Commons in October 2007, Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, Simon Glik, observed three Boston police officers attempting to arrest a suspect. After hearing another bystander say “you are hurting him, stop” and being concerned that the police were using excessive force Glik began to record the incident on his cell phone camera from about ten feet away. Once the suspect was in handcuffs one of the officers told Glik “I think you have taken enough pictures.” When Glik continued to record another officer asked Glik if he was recording audio. When Glik said yes he was handcuffed and arrested by police. The charges were unlawful audio recording in violation of  Massachusetts’ wiretap law, disturbing the peace and aiding in the escape of a prisoner. After his arrest Glik filed a complaint with internal affairs regarding the incident. The Boston Police “did not investigate his complaint or initiate disciplinary action against the arresting officers.”

In February 2010, Glik, represented by the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU, filed a civil right complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts against the three arresting officers as well as the City of Boston under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The complaint also alleges state-law claims under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, § 11I, as well as malicious prosecution.

The defendants moved to dismiss under FRCP 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted and because the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. At a motion hearing the district court denied the defendant’s motion, stating that “in the First Circuit . . . this First Amendment right to publicly record the activities of police officers on public business is established.”

In its decision the First Circuit reasoned that, given the facts in Glik, since “the qualified immunity doctrine ‘balances two important interests — the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably;’ ‘a reasonable defendant would have understood that his conduct violated the plaintiff[’s] constitutional rights.’”

The City of Boston appealed this ruling on behalf of its officers (See:  City’s Brief and  ACLU Brief; as well as two amicus briefs: Center for Constitutional Rights and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press).

Apparently following up on Glik’s initial 2007 complaint to police  “a department spokeswoman told the Boston Globe that the officers, John Cunniffee and Peter Savalis, now ‘face discipline ranging from an oral reprimand to suspension.’” Glik told the Globe, “As far as I knew, my complaint was summarily dismissed. . . . I was basically laughed out of the building,’’ Glik said. “From what I understand, it takes filing a federal lawsuit in order for internal affairs to review a complaint.’’

That lawsuit and the one in Sharp now move forward with new momentum. It will also be interesting to see what impact this has on the awaited decision in ACLU v Alvarez before the Seventh Circuit. Stay tuned!

Posted in Access, Baltimore Police, Boston Police, cell phone cameras, Christopher Sharp, confiscated, Department of Justice, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, law, Legal, Maryland ACLU, Massachusetts ACLU, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, Police, Public Photography, Recording Police, Search and Seizure, Simon Glik | 59 Comments »