National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Filming the Watchmen

Excerpt from a new paper, “Filming the Watchmen,”  from the Heritage Foundation:

Brandy Berning spent the night in a Florida jail because she used a cell phone to film a traffic stop on I-95. George Thompson of Fall River, Massachusetts, claimed that he was verbally abused, arrested, and locked up overnight for filming a profane police officer with a cell phone from his front porch. The officer was across the street in full view and within earshot of anyone who happened to be passing by his home.  Most recently, Florida police arrested and charged Lazaro Estrada with obstruction of justice for peacefully filming an arrest with his cell phone on a public street.

Why is this happening? Police are unhappy that people are using their cell phones—which often have video capabilities—to film police conduct. Some state statutes generally prohibit the recording or interception of oral communications unless all parties to the conversation consent. To prevent citizens from gathering and disseminating information about police conduct, police are relying on these statutes to arrest citizens who film police in public, even if those citizens have a right to be present in the locations from which they film.

The question arises: Are such filming and any subsequent publication protected by the First Amendment? If so, what can we do to better secure our rights?

This paper summarizes how federal courts of appeal have treated the filming of police officers in public. It then contends that there exists a First Amendment right not only to film police in such places, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, but also to publish the content of those films.

Full paper here.  Still more here.

Truck Driver Turns the Table on State Trooper

From ABC News:

When truck driver Brian Miner was pulled over by an Illinois state trooper for honking his horn unnecessarily, it was the trooper who got an earful.

Miner, with his camera recording, brazenly turned the tables on what he believed was a police trooper driving recklessly, with video of the encounter viewed more than 2.5 million times since it was uploaded on YouTube last week.

Miner says the trooper was speeding and holding his phone while driving on a wet highway. So when the trooper approached, threatening to give him a ticket, Miner started asking questions.

The trooper never said he was speeding, and said he doesn’t remember having his phone in his hand. But he did tell Miner that the law is on his side, as seen in the video.

“Police officers can actually use technology when they’re driving,” the trooper said.

“Oh, so you guys are above the law?” Miner asked.

“We’re exempt,” the trooper said.

Illinois law does allow officers to use technology while driving and also drive above the speed limit while on official business.

But Miner remained persistent. More than two minutes into the conversation, the trooper walked away from the truck, and when he returned, he thanked Miner for his concern.

“I understand you using the horn,” the trooper said, “You saw me speeding. I honestly wasn’t paying attention to my speed.”

The trooper declined to give Miner a ticket.

Miner says he’s not surprised that the trooper changing his tune. “And that’s what happens when they know you’re recording,” Miner said.

NJ Police Attack Marcus Jeter, Then Accuse Him of Crimes

From ABC’s Good Morning America:

Marcus Jeter faced a years-long prison sentence.

The New Jersey DJ, 30, was arrested in a 2012 traffic stop and charged with eluding police, resisting arrest and assault. Prosecutors insisted that Jeter do prison time.

“The first plea was five years,” Jeter said.

But after Jeter’s attorney, Steven Brown, filed a request for records, all of the charges against him were dropped, with dash-cam video apparently showing what really happened June 7, 2012. Now, the officers are facing charges.

Video at the above link.

Only by chance, was the actual event caught by a camera.  Only by chance was an innocent man exonerated.  Only by chance were corrupt officers exposed.   What about the incidents where there is no camera rolling?

Rights Violations in Memphis

From Knoxnews.com:

Twice in five days, Memphis Police officers have been accused of interfering with citizens who were using their cellphones to record police activities.

The First Amendment guarantees people the right to film public activities, civil liberties experts said Tuesday. Last November, the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened such protections when it refused to hear an appeal concerning an Illinois law that would have made it illegal to record police.

In both Memphis cases — one at a Midtown homeless shelter, the other a hip-hop gathering on South Main — those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct or obstructing a highway or passageway. Handcuffs effectively ended those recording attempts.

Civil liberties experts worry that police are using general laws to arrest people who disobey orders to put their cameras away.

“The people who are recording are winning in court. But the problem is that, out on the streets, police officers can informally order people to put their phones away or threaten them with arrest if they don’t,” said Tim Lynch, director of the criminal justice program of the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

 

Phoenix Police Taser Man, Drag Him Down Stairs By His Feet

I do not know what the anchorman is talking about when he says the police had to make a “split second” decision.  I’m skeptical the use of the taser was really a “split second” situation.  And leaving that aside, the manner in which the man was dragged down the stairs is indefensible.

12-Year Old Challenges Las Vegas Motorcycle Cop

From Examiner.com:

The 12-year-old boy, who’s name is Jeremy, confronts a Las Vegas Metro motorcycle cop after he noticed the cop was illegally parked on a sidewalk just to get something to drink. Earlier today, Gawker reported that the boy proceeded to ask the cop if he had any emergency reason to park, and then he asked for the cop to reveal his badge number.

After ignoring the boy’s questions, the cop then asks Jeremy if he is a lawyer. Jeremy states that he is just a 12-year-old citizen and continues to pressure the cop for his badge number….

The cop continues to refuse, and eventually leaves on his motorcycle. Before leaving the scene, the cop becomes agitated with the 12-year-old, and asks Jeremy for his ID then accuses him of loitering.

Video at the link above.

We may have a job for him here after high school.

Policing in Prince George’s County, Maryland

From the Washington Post:

Other Maryland students were roughed up and badly injured by the police after the basketball game. At least three were knocked unconscious; two of them required medical care. Nine students (in addition to Mr. McKenna) received a total of $1.6 million in settlements from the county stemming from police violence.

In the absence of video evidence in those cases, the officers who used Maryland students as punching bags faced no disciplinary consequences. Amazingly, the police department’s internal affairs division, which handled the abuse complaints, did not even interview most of the students who were injured. It follows that if no video had surfaced of Mr. McKenna’s beating, that too would have been swept under the rug of police impunity and official indifference.

Read the whole thing.   You really should do it.

Another Victory for First Amendment and Recording the Police

From the Chicago Tribune:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal of a controversial Illinois law prohibiting people from recording police officers on the job.

By passing on the issue, the justices left in place a federal appeals court ruling that found that the state’s anti-eavesdropping law violates free-speech rights when used against people who audiotape police officers….

Illinois’ eavesdropping law is one of the harshest in the country, making audio recording of a law enforcement officer — even while on duty and in public — a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Public debate over the law had been simmering since last year. In August 2011, a Cook County jury acquitted a woman who had been charged with recording Chicago police internal affairs investigators she believed were trying to dissuade her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer.

The government keeps losing in court on these matters, the main problem right now is a practical one (not so much a legal one)–when cops out on the street overstep their bounds and threaten people who have their smart phones out and are recording.   If bogus charges against a citizen-journalist are dropped, the cops likely face no adverse consequences–so it continues.

The John McKenna Case: Video Captures Baton Blows to University of Maryland Student

From the Washington Post:

The encounter between police officers and a University of Maryland student after a basketball game in 2010 lasted only 10 seconds, but how a jury interprets those moments, captured on video, will determine the fate of two veteran Prince George’s County police officers on trial this week.

The officers, Reginald Baker and James J. Harrison, are charged with first-degree assault and misconduct in office. Prosecutor Joseph Ruddy opened the government’s case against them Monday by slamming his palm against a wooden railing in a county circuit courtroom, eliciting a loud thwack.

“Did you hear that noise?” he asked jurors. “That was a baton striking John McKenna over and over and over again.”

Ruddy, an assistant state’s attorney, urged jurors to hold the officers accountable in what he called an unprovoked beating of a skipping, singing student during a postgame celebration on the streets of College Park.

Here’s the video:

According to the news article above,

Attorneys for the officers called the gathering an unruly riot that threatened to get out of control and characterized McKenna, then a 21-year-old student, as an aggressor who ran toward police with fists clenched, ignoring warnings to stand back.

The baton blows to McKenna were “lawful, justified and were not police brutality,” said William C. Brennan, an attorney for Baker.

Decide for yourself.