19 March 2013
CAMERAS AND THE POLICE
If you ever witness police behavior which may verge outside legal limits, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) contends that you are within your rights under the First, Fourth, and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution to record the event using a still camera, a video camera or an audio tape recorder.
DOJ filed this rare opinion in the lawsuit filed by journalist Mannie Garcia against the Montgomery County, MD, and individual police officers. The officers were arresting two men, and Garcia feared that police brutality would ensue, so he began videotaping the arrest. Garcia charges that "police dragged Garcia to the police car, put him in handcuffs, threw him to the ground by kicking his feet out from under him, taunted him, threatened to arrest his wife if she came too close, then took his camera and seized the battery and memory card, which were never returned. The result was a disorderly conduct charge, for which he was acquitted, but before he went to trial Garcia lost his White House press credentials due to the charges."
According to Politico, which first broke the story, "the Justice Department argues that not only do individuals have a First Amendment right to record officers publicly doing their duties, they also have Fourth and 14th Amendment rights protecting them from having those recordings seized without a warrant or due process."
Thus it is settled law, according to the DOJ, that citizens have the right to record police. The DOJ Civil Rights Division made it plain ~ "The United States is concerned that discretionary charges, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, are all too easily used to curtail expressive conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising First Amentment rights .... core First Amendment conduct, such as recording a police officer performing duties on a public street, cannot be the sole basis for such charges."
To view a 3-minute interview with Garcia, check out The Daily Bail's coverage, and click on the second video.
This observer found the DOJ stance reassuring, in a time when political issues are so highly polarized and the U.S. Supreme Court is leaning further and further to the right. One can only hope that President Obama will have the opportunity to nominate one or two new justices, and that his nominations won't end up in filibuster limbo at the hands of the extreme conservative wing of the generally-obstructionist Republican Party.