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Texas Court Upholds the Right to Photograph and Record Police Activity

July 26th, 2014 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

In an important ruling in Texas, a federal judge held that the right to record police activity is a clearly established right protected by the First Amendment.

In a civil rights lawsuit, Antonio Buehler alleged that his constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested by the Austin Police Department multiple times for taking pictures of police activities. Buehler was first arrested when he came upon a police scene at a gas station, where he began recording the arrest because he felt that excessive force was being used. After that arrest, he formed a group called the “Peaceful Streets Project” and began regularly documenting police activity. He was arrested again and again for documenting police activity, according to the lawsuit.

In an effort to get the lawsuit dismissed, the Austin Police Department claimed “qualified immunity” which protects state officials from suit. However, qualified immunity is not available if officials violate a clearly established constitutional right. In their argument, APD claimed that the right to photograph or videotape police officers “is not recognized as a constitutional right”.

In an order released Thursday, the federal judge in the case held that not only is there a constitutional right to document police officers, but that the right is clearly established. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane held that “the First Amendment protects the right to videotape police officers in the performance of their official duties, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.”

Continuing, the judge wrote:

If a person has the right to assemble in a public place, receive information on a matter of public concern, and make a record of that information for the purpose of disseminating that information, the ability to make photographic or video recording of that information is simply not a new or a revolutionary expansion of a historical right. Instead the photographic or video recording of public information is only a more modern and efficient method of exercising a clearly established right.

Buehler’s attorney, Daphne Silverman told NPPA, “Antonio and I are pleased with Judge Lane’s ruling upholding the First Amendment right to document police conduct. This is a win for the citizens and should be of no concern to honest police officers.”

The NPPA filed an amicus brief in the case last month in support of Buehler’s position, whose case will now go forward.

See also, http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/crime-law/federal-judge-upholds-activist-antonio-buehlers-ri/ngnbp/

Posted in Austin Police, blogging, False Arrest, Federal Court, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Lawsuit, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police | No Comments »

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

June 16th, 2014 by 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 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 | No Comments »

Senate to Consider Bill Favoring Cameras in U.S. Supreme Court

June 21st, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation Thursday that would require the Supreme Court to televise proceedings, just days before the high court is expected to hand down a series of major rulings.

The Supreme Court has just over a week to publish decisions on gay marriage, affirmative action, and the Voting Rights Act, some of the most contentiously litigated and publicly discussed issues of the day.

The Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2013 would require the Supreme Court to offer live television access of proceedings unless a majority of Justices agree that doing so would violate the due process rights of a party before the Court.  Currently, a written transcript of the proceedings is published each day the Court is session, and audio is posted at the end of the week.

In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts earlier this week, Senator Durbin argued the importance of increased transparency:

“The Court’s opinions in these cases will impact millions of individuals and the collective fabric of American life. Accordingly, it is not unreasonable for the American people to have an opportunity to hear firsthand the arguments and opinions that will shape their society for years to come.”

It’s not the first time someone has tried to pull back the curtain on the Supreme Court’s decision-making process.  Almost two decades ago, a question about the possibility of cameras in the courtroom led Justice David Souter to famously remark, “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

Opposition to cameras in the Court is centrally grounded in concerns that their presence will have a warping effect, either on the manner in which Justices consider cases, or the way the public perceives the Court.

Justice Antonin Scalia has openly worried that edited video clips from the Supreme Court would paint an inaccurate picture of what actually happens in chambers.  “For every one person who sees it on C-SPAN gavel to gavel so they can really understand what the court is about . . . 10,000 will see 15-second takeouts on the network news, which, I guarantee you, will be uncharacteristic of what the court does,” Scalia said in 2005.

NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher responded to such critiques in an article published in the Reynolds Courts & Media Law Journal.  “The federal judiciary must be mindful of its high power not to erect its own prejudices into judicial rules, Osterreicher observed, “Society can ill afford to let the misplaced and speculative objections of jurists antagonistic to the electronic press substantially undermine a fundamental constitutional right by lens-capping the very tools of the profession and eviscerating the very means by which most Americans receive their news.”

Not every Justice agrees that the Supreme Court is no place for cameras.  Justices Kagan and Sotomayor have made statements reflecting their support for the video recording of court proceedings, and in 2008 Chief Justice Roberts told NPPA Attorney Alicia Calzada that he was not opposed to the idea.  Regardless, the Supreme Court has not signaled any meaningful change in its official position.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has offered bills similar to Durbin and Grassley’s the past two Congresses; both died on the Senate floor.

Lawmakers’ inability to move on this issue is hardly surprising given the recent epidemic of inaction on Capitol Hill, and concerns over potential separation of powers conflicts may be tempering enthusiasm among some in Congress.

But cameras in the Supreme Court isn’t an issue that’s going away, nor should it be.

“The ability of the public to view actual courtroom trials should not be trivialized,” Osterreicher contends.  “That right, advanced by cameras in the courtroom, is the right of the people to monitor the official functions of their government.  Nothing is more fundamental to the democratic system of governance than this right of the people to know how their government is functioning on their behalf.”

You can access weekly updated audio of oral arguments here, while written transcripts are posted the same day the Court hears a case.

Posted in Access, Cameras, Cameras in the Courtroom, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Open Government, photographers, photojournalism, SCOTUS, US Supreme Court | No Comments »

California Parks Department Responds to Incident with Film Crew

June 13th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A month after being notified the California Department of Parks and Recreation has responded to a letter sent by NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher regarding an incident during which parks employees detained a news crew and ordered them to delete their footage. KGTV Team 10 reporter Mitch Blacher and photojournalist Arie Thanasoulis were on public property at San Onofre State Beach on April 29, 2013 shooting footage for a story on the San Onofre Nuclear power plant when they were approached by a parks employee who accused them of trespassing, blocked their vehicle and ordered them to stop recording.

That employee, later identified as Bob Warman, then called State Parks Police Officer Ennio Rocca  who arrived and also proceeded to harass and threaten to arrest the pair for doing nothing more than recording video of the plant from an area open to the public.  Officer Rocca in turn called an unidentified employee of Southern California Edison, who arrived on the scene dressed in full SWAT gear. The three of them then ordered the crew to delete whatever video they had already shot under threat of arrest.While the trio claimed the news crew was standing on private property, the “no trespassing” sign they referred to turned out to be for “no parking,” while a fisherman and a woman walking her dog are visible in video footage in an area they alleged was “secure.” Although the news crew complied with the unreasonable demand and deleted a file containing the footage they were able to broadcast a story using video contained on a second file.

In his letter Osterreicher called the actions of the parks officers “a clear violation of the First and Fourth Amendments.” “It is one thing for officers to act when there is probable cause, Osterreicher wrote, “it is quite another to abuse that discretion in order to create a climate that infringes upon free speech under the pretext of safety and security.” He requested that the “matter be fully investigated and the employees properly disciplined if so indicated.” Osterreicher also advised the department by email of another incident that occurred on May 14, 2103 involving its officers, who detained and questioned two other photographers, JC Playford and Gerry Nance, filming near the power plant gate.

Responding to the NPPA, California Department of Parks & Recreation Chief Counsel Claire LeFlore agreed that the officers had overstepped their bounds. “In hindsight, they may have acted with an overabundance of caution while detaining the news crew,” LeFlore said, “but there was never an intention to violate anyone’s constitutional rights.” LeFlore noted that the incident came shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, and at that “staff was on high alert for the possibility of additional terrorist actions.” Osterreicher responded to that statement in a subsequent interview, saying, “it is indeed unfortunate that well-meaning people still somehow equate an act of terrorism with photography.” “In the Boston tragedy it should be duly noted that law enforcement requested anyone who had pictures or video of the event provide them voluntarily – not delete them,” he added.

The importance of defending sensitive targets is well understood, but, as Osterreicher noted, “in any free country the balance between actual vigilance and over-zealous enforcement is delicate.” LeFlore says all personnel involved in the incident have been counseled on how to properly deal with the press “so that First Amendment rights can be protected and both the press and [parks] staff can carry out their functions with minimal interference with each other.” Officers have also been counseled that there is no legal basis for the seizure or destruction of photographs or video.

Osterreicher also sent copies of his letter to officials from Southern California Edison, the owners of the plant but received no response. In its report 10News quoted a spokeswoman for the utility, as saying, “a security officer ‘responded conservatively when he indicated to a television crew his preference that they stop filming and delete their video.'” Osterreicher also responded to that statement, “Indicating a preference that someone stop filming is a far cry from illegally ordering someone to do so under threat of arrest.” “Aside from being factually incorrect, the arrogance of Southern California Edison in their failure to respond to our letter, unrepentant statements to KGTV and behavior of their employees speaks for itself,” he concluded.

The NPPA has offered to work with the California Department of Parks and Recreation to improve their guidelines and training regarding these matters in order to avoid similar situations. The parks department says it will consider NPPA suggestions in implementing an expanded staff training program.

KGTV reporter Mitch Blacher said in an email, “It is encouraging to see the California state parks police work to remedy the oppression of constitutional rights by their officers,” adding, “As American citizens and working journalists our treatment was highly troubling.” “More questions need to be asked as to why California parks police and staff followed the direction of non-sworn private security personnel instead of the federal and state constitutions they swore an oath to uphold.”  1oNews Special Projects Executive Producer Ellen McGregor added, “As a manager behind-the-scenes, who talked for quite some time on the phone with parks police that day, Mickey’s offer train the agencies on the First and Fourth Amendments proves the NPPA’s commitment to a free press, and the journalists at KGTV are grateful.”

Posted in Access, Assault on Photographers, Attack Photographers, California, detained, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording, Regulations limiting photography, trespass | No Comments »

NPPA Sends Letter Opposing Proposed Anti-Paparazzi Statutes in California

April 23rd, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 *** UPDATE *** In the wake of opposition from NPPA and other groups the CA Assembly Judiciary Committee made both AB-1256 and AB-1356 “2 year bills.” A 2 year bill is one which will not move out of the policy committee this year. It is eligible to be taken up again at the beginning of the 2nd year of the biennial session thus the term “2 year bill.” In January, the Legislature will hear all bills introduced in the 1st year and those that pass muster will begin to move through the process. This is very significant because every other anti-paparazzi bill that has been introduced has flown through the Legislature. This is the first time one has been held up. While the AB-1256 and AB-1356 are not dead, this indicates the sponsors may have a difficult time getting out of Judiciary in January.

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) today sent a letter to California Assembly Member Richard Bloom opposing two recently filed anti-paparazzi statutes that he sponsored. The NPPA was joined by twenty-six other organizations in sending this letter, including the Associated Press Media Editors, Digital Media Law Project at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Bloomberg News, North Jersey Media Group Inc., The New Yorker, E.W. Scripps Company, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Society of Professional Journalists, Radio Television Digital News Association, The Associated Press, National Public Radio, Inc., The McClatchy Company, Reuters News, Time Inc., The Washington Post, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Picture Archive Council of America, Cox Media Group, American Society of News Editors, California Newspapers Partnership, The First Amendment Coalition, Courthouse News Service, The Newspaper Guild, Communications Workers of America, Association of Alternative Newsmedia and San Francisco Bay Media Associates.

The letter is written in opposition to proposed bill AB-1256, “An act to amend Section 1708.8 of, and to add Section 1708.9 to, the Civil Code, relating to civil law.” Proposed bill AB-1256 would expand upon California’s constructive invasion of privacy law. The letter also expresses opposition to AB-1356, “An act to amend Section 1708.7 of the Civil Code, relating to stalking,” which would enhance California’s anti-paparazzi statutes.

“We believe the creation of a civil cause of action for the “constructive invasion of privacy” is overly broad and vague and imposes greater civil penalties upon otherwise protected forms of speech and expression,” wrote Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for NPPA. Osterreicher continued, “We are also concerned that remedies for invasion of privacy and trespass are already properly addressed by current California statutes and that statutory and punitive damages will further chill free speech and create uncertainty about liability.” “Additionally,” stated Osterreicher, “the definition of “commercial purposes” fails to distinguish those acts done for valid newsgathering purposes and in fact penalizes publishers and broadcasters along with visual journalists and members of the public with a camera.”

In the letter Osterreicher cites recent Supreme Court cases which support NPPA’s position that AB-1256 and AB-1356 are unconstitutional, including U.S. v. Stevens, 559 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 1577 (2010) (holding the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010 unconstitutional); California v. Superior Court of California (Raef), Case No. BS140861 (holding California statute AB-2479, an anti-paparazzi statute, unconstitutional); and Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972) (holding that “without some protection for seeking out the news, freedom of the press could be eviscerated”).

In another related matter a California assembly member withdrew his proposed “ag-gag” bill hours before it was to be considered at a scheduled hearing.

The measure, AB-343, sponsored by Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, originally imposed a “duty to report animal cruelty” that would have required “any person who willfully or knowingly photographs, records or videotapes animal cruelty . . .” to “submit all original photographs, recordings or video to local law enforcement and the owner of the animal(s) or a representative of the owner within forty eight hours of taking such photographs, recordings or video.”

NPPA and other groups opposed the bill as violating the Shield Law provisions of the California Constitution and Code of Evidence; as well as being unconstitutional under the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in that it abridged free speech and press and constituted an unreasonable seizure lacking in due process.

“The NPPA is very proud to have the support of so many state and national organizations in its fight against these ongoing First Amendment erosions,” said NPPA President Mike Borland. “We hope that lawmakers around the country will realize that there is a better way to address their constituent’s concerns than to propose unconstitutional bills,” he added.

Posted in ag-gag, anti-paparazzi, California, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Paparazzi, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Recording, Regulations limiting photography | No Comments »

Right to Record–Recording in Public Meetings is a Right in Arkansas

April 3rd, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Attorney General in Arkansas issued an opinion letter ruling on Monday confirming that a city council in the state did not have the right to ban video recordings of public meetings.

The Associated Press is reporting that the White River Current newspaper sought an official opinion from the AG’s office after the local city council in Calico Rock banned recordings from its meetings. The newspaper had posted council meeting videos on YouTube.

Three questions were posed to the AG, including

1) whether or not the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act granted citizens a right to make a video recording of a public meeting of elected officials?

A: Yes.

2) whether a claim that recording is “disruptive” because a council member is uncomfortable being recorded, sufficient reason to ban recording.

A: No.

3) whether or not the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants citizens the right to record public officials in performance of their duties.

A: No- the First Amendment does not grant peopel the right to make a tape recording of a public meeting.

In an eleven page opinion, the AG said, in summary:

When one reads the FOIA broadly to foster greater openness and more disclosure—as we are required to do—I believe there are good grounds to conclude that our FOIA affords persons the right to videotape a public meeting. According to my research, this also accords with the law in the overwhelming majority of states. But, in response to your second question, the right to videotape a public meeting is subject to the public body’s reasonable regulation. While such regulation cannot ban videotaping, the regulation can ensure that the activity is done in a manner that does not disrupt the meeting. In my view, the mere fact that a member of the public body is uncomfortable being filmed is not a sufficient reason to ban the videotaping. When it comes to videotaping public meetings, the FOIA appears to give greater rights than does the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because—in response to your third question—the amendment does not give people a right to videotape public proceedings.

The opinion is loaded with interesting case law and citations to various state FOI decisions. See in particular footnotes on page 3, for an analysis of various states and the right to record public meetings, with citations to rules expressly permitting recording in Indiana, South Carolina and Kentucky. The opinion can be found at this link.

 

Posted in Access, blogging, broadcasting, First Amendment, News Photography, Newsgathering, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Public Forum, Public Photography, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, Recording, Regulations limiting photography | No Comments »

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