DC Court Dumps Police Union's Attempt To Block Release Of Recordings, Officers' Names Following Police Shootings
from the maybe-just-shoot-fewer-people-if-this-transparency-is-such-a-problem dept
Last year, a number of police reforms were passed by the city of Washington, DC. These efforts angered the Fraternal Order of Police — which represents a number of DC Metro police officers — enough for it to sue. It sued over two reforms in particular: the release of police recordings (body cam or otherwise) and the names of officers involved in shootings of residents.
The FOP insisted this was a bad idea. According to the union, releasing this information would place officers in danger. The FOP speculated making officers’ names public would subject them to humiliation, possible armed retribution by city residents, and make it ever so slightly more difficult for them to be employed by other law enforcement agencies.
It also suggested releasing footage would violate the privacy rights of citizens, including victims and witnesses at the scene. And it insisted the entire thing reeked of due process violations, since there was a chance (probably a pretty good one) that officers would be cleared of any wrongdoing.
Well, the court has rejected all of the FOP’s arguments and Metro PD officers are going to have to get used to the new level of transparency that now surrounds their use of deadly force. The court likes exactly zero of the FOP’s arguments. First, the court [PDF] points out the police union has no standing to bring this suit, no matter which version of standing it attempts to use.
Speculating that the FOP will be involved in more defense of officers accused of wrongdoing following use-of-force incidents isn’t an injury the court’s willing to recognize. (And it’s unclear how releasing footage and names would result in more litigation or internal investigations.)
Simply stating that more resources will be expended is insufficient because the passing of the Temporary Act did not prevent the plaintiffs from performing tasks or actions that they previously could prior the Temporary Act.
Further, plaintiff’s alleged future injuries are too speculative to establish organizational standing. The plaintiff alleges that it will have to expended resources to challenge improper transfers of Detectives, but as the defendants pointed out, such an allegation is based a series of potential future events. It is not concrete or imminent injury when the allegations involve a chain of events that essentially start from the Mayor’s release of the footage, to less witnesses willing to testify, to a more difficult investigation, to a lower closure rate, to potential transfers or disciplinary action, and then to plaintiff’s decision whether to represent the officer, assuming that the officer is one of plaintiff’s members. […] Therefore, plaintiff’s pure speculation about potential future harm is insufficient to establish organizational standing.
The court says the FOP also can’t sue because it feels release of footage will infringe on the privacy rights of residents who aren’t cops.
In the Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the Temporary Act will infringe on the rights of citizens of the District, such as infringing on their privacy rights. However, it is unclear how the plaintiff can establish a close relationship with every member of the general public who are not members of the plaintiff’s organization. Furthermore, there is no allegation of any “hindrance” to the ability of the public to protect their own interests.
There’s no associational standing either.
In the Amended Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the release of the camera footage and names of officers will result in “unjust reputational harm, result in “immediate risk of a significant bodily harm,” and lead to “psychological trauma” to an officer and his/her family. However, these allegations are purely speculation and conclusory allegations that the Court has no obligation to accept under the relevant standards. The pure possibility that something might happen does not constitute an injury.
In addition, there’s nothing connecting this speculation to the actions of the city government, which passed the order governing the release of footage and names.
Further, the Amended Complaint also fails to allege how any alleged injuries can be “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s actions. The defendants are not in control of public opinion and cannot be held responsible if a citizen or citizens criticizes or condemns an officer’s use of force in a particular incident.
The court saves the best for last in this dismissal. It dispenses with the union’s due process violation allegations by pointing out there’s no difference between the officers’ body cameras and cameras operated by citizens. You can’t say one is protected speech but the other somehow violates the privacy rights of police officers.
In Count II, the plaintiffs contend that Subtitle B of the Temporary Act “violates the fundamental right to privacy held by D.C. Police Union members.” Specifically, the immediate public release of names of officers and body-worn camera footage “will allow criminal suspects and their associates to identify the officer and potentially seek retribution.” First and foremost, there is “no authority that the Constitution imposes on the government an affirmative duty—untethered to specific constitutional provisions such as the First Amendment—to ‘safeguard personal information’ from the criminal acts of third parties.”
Importantly, as the defendants mentioned, MPD policy explicitly states that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to record MPD members during official business, unless they interfere with police activity. See MPD General Order 304-19 at § 1. If the public is legally able to record officers during official business, it is unclear how any reasonable officer can assume that they have the right to privacy when conducting said official business.
The lawsuit is dismissed. Presumably this will be appealed, but even when given two chances to fill a lawsuit with actionable claims and firmly establish standing, the FOP failed. Once this is appealed, it’s stuck with the arguments that have already failed once. It should probably save its time and money for future Hail Mary litigation in the event of impending release of footage and names.