Plaintiff Who Recorded Baltimore Police Now Has DOJ On His Side
From The Baltimore Sun (h/t Radley Balko):
The U.S. Department of Justice‘s Civil Rights Division has urged a federal court to side with a Howard Countyman in a lawsuit over his cellphone being seized by Baltimore police at the Preakness Stakes after he filmed officers making an arrest.
The federal attorneys say the lawsuit “presents constitutional questions of great moment in this digital age.” They asked U.S. District Judge Benson Everett Legg to rule that citizens have a right to record police officers and that officers who seize and destroy recordings without a warrant or due process are violating the Fourth and 14th amendments.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which is representing the plaintiff, Christopher Sharp, said it believes this is the first time the Department of Justice has weighed in on the topic 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,” Justice Department attorneys wrote in a “statement of interest” filed Jan. 10 in the case. “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.”
The ACLU says officers stopped Sharp and erased his videos, including many of his young son, after he declined to surrender his cellphone as “evidence.” He had been recording a May 2010 incident involving a friend, Anna Chyzhova, who was arrested for striking a patron at a ticket window at Pimlico Race Track.
The group had said a lawsuit could have been avoided if police worked to develop clearer policies and acknowledged that Sharp should have been able to record the incident. But the Police Department did not respond to that request, prompting the suit in August 2011.
In a November motion to dismiss the suit, the Police Department said the claims made by Sharp and his attorneys were moot because the department had voluntarily developed training protocols for officers and sergeants and emailed instructions to officers. It said there was “no reasonable expectation that the violations alleged by the plaintiff will reoccur.”
But the Justice Department said those measures were not sufficient.
“At minimum, defendants should develop a comprehensive policy that specifically addresses individual’s First Amendment right to observe and record officer conduct,” attorneys wrote. “Morever,BPD should track allegations that an officer has interfered with a citizen’s First Amendment right to observe and/or record the public performance of public duties.”
Image via Reason