MN Judge Refuses To Throw Out Case Against Citizen Recording Police, EMS

from the one-step-forward,-two-steps-back dept

Back in January, I wrote about an exceptionally odd case in Minnesota in which a private citizen had his recording device liberated from his person by police after he recorded them patting down a bloodied man before putting him in an ambulance. What made it odd wasn’t what the police did initially, as that happens far too often these days, but in that Andrew Henderson was then charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction, with the paperwork describing what he’d done as a HIPAA violation. In case your common-sense-o-meter isn’t functioning today, that claim is bullshit, since HIPAA covers actions by healthcare providers in how they deal with patient information. In addition, the claim is at odds with another recording Henderson made of the officer that took his property, in which deputy Jacqueline Muellner claimed she was taking the device in as “evidence.” This “evidence” was subsequently deleted before Henderson’s recording device was given back to him, leading me to wonder when the case against Henderson would be tossed out to make room for one against deputy Muellner.

The answer, unfortunately, might be never. Ramsey County Judge Edward Wilson has denied Henderson’s attempt to get the case thrown out, saying that the first amendment doesn’t apply. He also refused to throw out the obstruction charge, despite the fact that the bench Henderson had been sitting on is roughly thirty feet from where the ambulance was parked.

Wilson, the judge, wrote in his order that “it is not necessary that one engage in a physical act to interfere or obstruct. It is sufficient if the defendant’s actions or conduct had the effect of physically obstructing or interfering with a member of an ambulance crew.”

Got it now? Obstruction doesn’t actually mean obstruction, it means either obstruction or doing something that makes professional police and EMS folk not able to do their jobs properly. This, apparently, includes recording them from thirty feet away, which puts into question exactly how many Minnesota police and EMS workers suffer from the kind of ADD my dog has when I take her on walks. I can imagine it now: EMS worker kneels in front of patient, EMS worker begins wiping away blood on patient’s face, EMS worker asks patient if he remembers his name, EMS worker cannot hear response because he’s run into heavy traffic chasing a squirrel.

And, while the disorderly conduct charge absolutely reeks of the police throwing feces at the wall to see what sticks, deputy Muellner ran away and retired to become former-deputy Muellner, with all of her benefits in place and without any formal inquiry into why she destroyed evidence so important that it was worth seizing private property.

However, while the news is all bad thus far, Henderson’s lawyers are promising to take this to trial, so we’ll just have to see if the judicial process has a bit more sense than judicial officers of the court.

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Comments on “MN Judge Refuses To Throw Out Case Against Citizen Recording Police, EMS”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

You don’t have to interfere with the ambulance crew in order to be found guilty of interfering?
A year ago, I would’ve been surprised at this casual re-writing of the dictionary. Today, I don’t bat an eye.
This case actually makes a good argument for Google Glass. If Henderson actually was sitting 30 feet away, been wearing a Google Glass, but didn’t get up, just started recording, no way in hell anyone could spot the glass from 30 feet away. If the ambulance crew/police still say “obstruction” in that case, then they have no business performing any type of action out in public, and are thus, unfit for their jobs. They’re supposed to be trained to act under pressure, but apparently, being seen and/or recorded by a member of the public while out in public is too much pressure to expect them to handle.

That One Guy (profile) says:

It is sufficient if the defendant’s actions or conduct had the effect of physically obstructing or interfering with a member of an ambulance crew.

Sorry, I must have missed the part where he not only got up from the bench, but went over and physically interfered with the ambulance personnel, because last time I checked unless you’re the size of a molecule or atom, having your picture taken or otherwise being recorded does not physically affect you in the least.

Also, along with what Rikuo said, any paramedic who is unable to do their job due the ‘horrible interference’ of being recorded/watched does not in any way, shape or form deserve to hold their job, as it implies that they can be distracted by even the most minute things, which could very well cost people their lives.

AnonCow says:

Andrew Henderson just won the stupid cop lottery! His case will eventually get tossed and his attorney’s will file a civil rights lawsuit. Facing a multi-million dollar payout, he will settle with the city for a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Unfortunately, the settlement will be paid out of taxpayer funds, not the salaries of the cops and judges who are actually responsible for the incompetent chain of events.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

and will not decrease the likelihood of such police state harassment the next time, and the next, and the next…

thin blue line of testiliars strikes again ! ! !

listen up, the -what?- 1%? 10%? 90%? of donut eaters who are (relatively) clean: as long as YOU condone, cover up, and cooperate with all your fellow pigs who do this shit, YOU ARE ALL GUILTY…

that is how we are played, that is the rules you should be liable for also…

bad kops, no donuts!

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

mattshow (profile) says:

This post quotes the “thirty feet” figure that Henderson has been sticking to. If that’s the case, then his lawyers really needed to do a better job of making it clear to the judge. In the “Facts” section of the decision the judge states that he was three to five feet away, as the police officers claim. There is no mention of the thirty feet figure at all. Near the end of the decision, the judge does talk about conflicting evidence, so maybe the issue of how far away Henderson actually was was raised. And conflicts like that are exactly why we have trials.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A rather interesting point, and one that would have been cleared up in seconds if the evidence hadn’t ‘disappeared’ like it always seems to do when the police get their hands on it. Given that it did though, I think I’m going to go the safe rout and assume that the police are lying, and he was indeed 30, not 3-5, feet away.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Unfortunately this is where the gross double standards come into play.

Guy being sued says there was video evidence, but it was stolen and deleted.

Police claim that no such evidence ever existed.

Since the police are automatically considered more reliable/trustworthy due to their job, the ‘I had evidence but it was taken from me’ not only doesn’t work in the favor of the victim, it is held against him, because the judge assumes he’s lying to discredit the ‘upstanding’ police officers.

Anonymous Coward says:

In fairness to the judge, his reasoning does make at least a little sense – what the accused was doing can be construed at least as interference.

We can all agree that observation *can* change the behavior of those observed; this is why the NSA scandal is as much a 1st Amendment violation as a 4th. Techdirt has argued this line of reasoning before, and has (IMHO) done so correctly.

As has been pointed out by the Fraternal Order of Police several times, recording police *does* make them change their approach when enforcing the law. (Some, including myself, would also point out that this is precisely the purpose of making such recordings, but I digress).

If the judge interprets the statute for obstruction of justice to mean anything which might change police or first responders’ behavior, then he has a point.

The statute(609.50) is a little vague here – and allows obstruction to be defined as anything which ‘interferes’ with police activity. If a broad definition of ‘interferes’is used, his argument makes some sense.

Of course, in the light of ACLU v. Alvarez, I’m not sure how he can reasonably use such a broad definition. An Appellate court almost certainly won’t stand by it.

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