Boston Police Department Claims Contacting Its Public Affairs Number Is A Criminal Act

from the well-thank-fuck-these-people-are-in-charge-of-'enforcing-laws' dept

Most long-term Techdirt readers will be familiar with Carlos Miller, the man behind the Photography Is Not A Crime blog (usually shorthanded to simply "PINAC"). Miller, along with several other citizen photographers, have challenged local law enforcement officials repeatedly on their baseless claims that recording them is a crime.

Miller himself has been repeatedly arrested, harassed and charged with various dubious misdemeanors in an effort to curb his First Amendment rights. Now, Miller is being charged with something much more serious, thanks to the Boston Police Department's uncontrollable urge to silence critics and shutdown photographers.

Ken White at Popehat has this handy summary of the events leading up to the BPD's decision to charge Miller with "witness intimidation," a felony that carries with it a possible 10-year sentence.

The story begins typically for Photography Is Not A Crime with a story about a Boston Police Department sergeant thuggishly assaulting a photographer recording a traffic stop. A PINAC fan and journalism student named Taylor Hardy called the Boston PD's Bureau of Public Information on its public line to ask about the story. Hardy spoke with Angelene Richardson, a spokesperson for the Boston Police Department who provides information to the media and public. When Hardy published a recording of that call, the Boston Police Department arranged for him to be charged with wiretapping. Hardy claims that he informed Richardson that he was recording the call (though he did not successfully record that part of the conversation), apparently Richardson claims that he did not.
Boston's PD has received a lot of PINAC attention lately thanks to its officers' insistence on ignoring the outcome of the 2011 Glik decision, which saw the city pay out $170,000 to a citizen after the police wrongfully arrested him for violating the state's wiretapping statutes by recording them in public. The decision sent a message to citizens and citizen photographers, but apparently that message has yet to reach the ears of the city's police officers.

Now, as to the more problematic issue as to whether or not Hardy informed the BPD's public relations person that the conversation would be recorded (Massachusetts is a two-party consent state), it ultimately shouldn't matter.

A public relations person, whose sole purpose is to interact with the public, should assume that each and every conversation it has with citizens and journalists is being recorded -- especially the latter. There's no "expectation of privacy" inherent to public relations. Also, as Miller points out, the BPD is likely recording the calls on its end (the detective charging Miller has threatened to do the same to other callers, meaning someone's gathering info in Boston) which would make the two-party question moot.

After being informed that the BPD was pursuing Hardy on wiretapping charges, Carlos Miller posted the following to PINAC.
Maybe we can call or email Richardson to persuade her to drop the charges against Hardy considering she should assume all her conversations with reporters are on the record unless otherwise stated. Her listed number is (617) 343-4520.

Maybe we can build up an entire collection of recorded conversations with her. After informing her, of course.
The BPD's response to this action -- Miller posting a publicly available contact number (something Miller has done dozens of times previously without issue) -- was to charge him with a felony.
[T]hat led to Detective Moore filing a criminal complaint against me for witness intimidation, which I received Friday and is posted below, claiming that I caused Richardson all kinds of pain and grief because I posted her publicly available work contact info on my blog.

He also threatened to charge any readers who called her, making me think that perhaps the Boston Police Department is recording all incoming calls because how else would they gather the evidence to charge my readers for witness intimidation?
Ken White says there's some intimidation happening here alright, but not the way the BPD imagines it.
Indeed — an act of intimidation is involved. But it's an act of intimidation by the BPD, which is sending a clear message about how it will handle citizen dissent.

What an accomplishment: the Boston Police Department has discovered a way to make it a crime for citizens to contact the person it designates to talk to citizens.
The BPD has managed to dig itself a colossal hole in a very short period of time and it looks as if it has no interest in relinquishing its many shovels. Ordering someone from Miami (where Miller lives) to face charges in Boston over something so legally specious as declaring the posting of publicly available numbers to be "witness intimidation" is a prime example of how far some police officers will go to avoid having to admit they screwed up.

The Boston cops featured in PINAC's multiple stories all share the same attitude -- the law is whatever they declare it is, judicial decisions and the Constitution be damned. And when forced to confront the fact that they have it completely wrong, they simply ratchet up their intimidation tactics.

Defending yourself against clearly bogus charges isn't cheap. Carlos Miller has set up an Indiegogo campaign to pay for his legal representation. He's only seeking $2,200 ($2k for the lawyer plus $200 for indiegogo fees). Two bits of good news: 1) he's cleared that with several hours left to go and 2) he seems to have found himself an excellent attorney.
David Duncan, a partner at [Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP], will take on both Taylor Hardy’s case of illegal wiretapping and my case for witness intimidation for that price, which is much lower than he would normally charge for two felony cases.

He was referred to us by my friends at the Digital Media Law Project, which is a site every one of you should become familiar with because it contains a wealth of legal information regarding media law, which in this day and age, applies to every single one of us who uses the internet…
$2,000 is good start but expenses could increase significantly if Duncan is unable to get the case tossed.
But Duncan doesn’t come cheap. Most good attorneys don’t. He is charging $2,000 to attend the hearing on our behalf. Then he will charge $6,000 to attend three hearings after that if it does continue.

And that might not even include the actual trial, if it comes down to that. Nor does it include travel expenses.
Now, some people can find Carlos Miller's tactics to be a bit on the aggressive side. But even those who find he somehow crosses the line in his pursuit of strengthening the First Amendment rights of American citizens have to find the above ridiculous, at the very least. This all began with BPD officers intimidating a photographer using false claims that his actions were illegal. Now, due to the BPD's insistence on compounding its errors, a blogger in Florida is facing felony witness intimidation charges in Massachusetts.

The longer this bizarrely wrongheaded crusade against the First Amendment continues, the longer the Boston Police Dept. will have to deal with irate citizens from all over the nation contacting its public phone numbers to complain about its intimidating actions. A simple apology and an offer to drop charges would have done wonders for the PD several days ago, but now, it's far too late. Detective Moore's actions -- basically declaring that contacting BPD's public numbers is a criminal act -- have put him and those involved in a position that only allows them to actively make things worse. The bells have been rung and no amount of additional LEO blustering will un-ring them.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Rikuo (profile), Nov 13th, 2013 @ 10:20am

    I'm strongly tempted to call that number myself. I wonder if they'll attempt to extradite me for doing so?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), Nov 13th, 2013 @ 11:14am

    Hey, Philly...

    You wonder why no one protects your cops?

    Call Boston and tell them to stop being assholes and that'll be a good place to start!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:08pm

    I got to the "Massachusetts is a two-party consent state" line before I realized that this wasn't the NYPD

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:09pm

    Re:

    The real hilarious thing would be to get the # in question SWATed!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:26pm

    So let me get this straight...

    They are charging someone located in Florida with wiretapping based on a Massachusetts STATE law requiring that both parties have to be informed to record a phone call? A Florida resident making an interstate phone call isn't subject to Massachusetts state laws. Only Federal laws would be applicable in that instance which only says that one party needs to know.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:33pm

    It is a scary world when the police (those who are supposed to protect the public from crime) have no idea what is or is not a crime.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:35pm

    Re: So let me get this straight...

    My bad. I thought it was Miller who made the call. Anyway, if they are charging him with wiretapping, they have to prove he didn't tell him when he says he did. That burden lies with them not him.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:40pm

    Re: Re: So let me get this straight...

    And according to Wikipedia:


    Accepted forms of notification for recording by a telephone company

    The FCC defines[35] accepted forms of notification for telephone recording by telephone companies as:

    Prior verbal (oral) or written consent of all parties to the telephone conversation.
    Verbal (oral) notification before the recording is made. (This is the most common)
    An audible beep tone repeated at regular intervals during the course of the call.

    Note that the law re: verbal is not worded "consent" but "notification".[35]


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_recording_laws

    So he has to tell them BEFORE he starts recording which explains perfectly why he doesn't have the part of the conversation where he told them recorded.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    GeneralEmergency (profile), Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:41pm

    Time to call the Boston Mayor's office...

    .

    ...and ask for a BPD number Public Relations Contact number to use other than (617) 343-4520 because you would prefer to avoid being charged with wiretapping at this time.

    .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:44pm

    Re: Time to call the Boston Mayor's office...

    If you are calling from another state, that law isn't applicable anyway.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 1:55pm

    Re:

    Yes, They would argue that you used US property, their phone system, to intimidate a US witness, and so you have committed an offence on US soil.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 2:11pm

    I wonder how much the freeloaders of Techdirt Nation will kick in on this worthy cause?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    citizen, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 2:17pm

    USA's cops are such huge assholes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    limbodog (profile), Nov 13th, 2013 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Re: Time to call the Boston Mayor's office...

    Mayor Menino is a rather big supporter of the BPD, but the new incoming mayor: Walsh? Yeah, he's a major union guy, he's going to let the BPD do whatever they want and ask them if they want help doing it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Time to call the Boston Mayor's office...

    Why not flood the mayor himself with calls to make the police chief's head roll straight into unemployment to set an example?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 2:43pm

    Just called..

    the person who answered sounded tired and acted as if they knew nothing about this :)

    I would love to see those dumbasses try to intimidate me, Ill drag them thru the bowels of the internet and post this number on every CL with an ad for free money. That will get the phones ringing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    ECA (profile), Nov 13th, 2013 @ 3:23pm

    Can I suggest..

    Her listed number is (617) 343-4520.

    That listing this Phone number onsite could be a problem.
    This is worse then Linking to another site, and having 1,000,000 HIT the site all at 1 time.
    NOTHING will get thru that Public phone for the next few days..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Nov 13th, 2013 @ 4:10pm

    Re: So let me get this straight...

    as a floridian, i happen to know our laws are all parties have to be informed a recording is being made; as a poster says below, they don't have to 'consent', they just have to be 'informed'...
    *presumably*, if they are 'informed', and they choose to continue the conversation knowing it is recorded, they are effectively 'consenting'...

    IANALTDA*

    (*i am not a lawyer thank dog almighty)

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    jimb (profile), Nov 13th, 2013 @ 4:44pm

    It isn't about the law, and whether the police follow it or not. Its about whether, when they charge you, you have the resour$es to fight back to keep your rights, or whether you are a typical citizen, strapped enough that you have to roll over. The law is being ignored by the police, and charges are being used to intimidate the citizenry into yielding their rights without fighting back. Thuggery pure and simple - this is an extortion of rights through abuse of authority. There's crimes being committed, but not by the citizens.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 7:46pm

    Re:

    If I were going to become a criminal I'd join the force because they're allowed to do whatever they want and be paid for it.

    Murder - Paid vacation and a medal.
    Rape - Paid vacation.
    Assault - Paid vacation.
    Extortion - Paid vacation.
    Drug abuse - Paid vacation

    They're being paid to break the law.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 8:56pm

    Re: Can I suggest..

    I found it in a tweet from @bostonpolice. They really need to stop digging.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 10:17pm

    Re:

    More than you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    john gratian, Nov 13th, 2013 @ 11:02pm

    Carlos Miller- BPD intimidation

    The way Boston Police Department is behaving feels more like Russia, North Korea or Iran. Not the USA. Started a Change.org Petition.

    https://www.change.org/petitions/boston-police-department-drop-charges-against-carlos-mille r-for-witness-tampering-taylor-hardy-s-case-of-wiretapping#share

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    McGreed (profile), Nov 14th, 2013 @ 2:06am

    Re: Re: Re: So let me get this straight...

    And if he had that part recorded, they would have charged him for wiretapping, but if he didn't they are saying he is lying and recorded illegal. Yay for twisting the facts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2013 @ 4:55am

    Need to fight crime?

    The city of Boston should call Aqua Teen Hunger Force!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Nov 14th, 2013 @ 5:57am

    A person cannot legally record a phone conversation with public relations personnel, that is in the Boston Police Department's dillusional fantasy world, yet government is using our tax dollars to purchase and mount security cameras which can record both video and audio in public areas, to say nothing of all the "private data" they intercept and store, all without our consent.

    This week we honor our veteran who fought for our freedoms. What better way to pay tribute than for the BPD to stomp all over people's rights...?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Nov 14th, 2013 @ 5:58am

    Re: *self-correction*

    ...delusional fantasy world.

    Sorry, didn't proof-read.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Stupid, Nov 14th, 2013 @ 6:03am

    Police brutality

    If you're a brutal police officer, you should fear public scrutiny. Who the hell likes being gang tackled, kicked, tased, and beat up for no good reason?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2013 @ 6:28am

    Re: Police brutality

    You forgot body cavity searches - it's all the rage now-a-days.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 14th, 2013 @ 7:09am

    the main thing to worry about now is how lawful and 'unbias' the judge is going to be. assuming he does as he should, the next thing to worry about is the retaliatory acts that BPD take against those in the case.

    to think that this sort of thing still goes on, gives out the message that, even though it is well known to be against the Constitution, why is it not put out in as strong terms as possible by the government? i am making the assumption that they are keen to uphold the Constitution, of course.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Chainsaw, Nov 14th, 2013 @ 7:33am

    Re:

    On the bright side... Free trip to Boston.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Lurker Keith, Nov 14th, 2013 @ 8:14am

    You have to wonder...

    With all these stories about the Police not knowing or making up laws, & apparently being unable to read nor understand THE friggin' CONSTITUTION TO THE UNITED STATES, it makes one wonder what the Police Academies teach new cops. I always assumed those Police Academy movies were comedies, if not parodies, not what's really going on at them...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    RonKaminsky (profile), Nov 14th, 2013 @ 10:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: So let me get this straight...

    I think he would have been OK if he had only recorded his side of the conversation from the start using a second recorder located in the same room with him, far from the telephone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Nov 14th, 2013 @ 11:45am

    Re: Re:

    I'm not sure that's a bright side. Almost everything I've heard about Boston starting with the insanity around the Aqua Teen Hunger Force fiasco makes me think it'd be a great place to avoid. Too many terrified cops over there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Fascist Slayer, Nov 14th, 2013 @ 1:27pm

    Re:

    LMMFAO... What wont' Fascist Amerika do to imprison and incarcerate its citizens. I'm guessing the largest prison population on earth just isn't enough.

    Maybe the people in this story should take it to another level and find a foreign embassy and make a plea for asylum, preferably Russia, from what I hear it's a good place these day's for Americans seeking freedom.

    RUSSIA STRONG!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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