Lawsuit Filed To Force NYPD To Respect Citizens' First Amendment Right To Record Police Officers
from the inevitable-law-enforcement-response:-'make-me' dept
The NYPD may be arbitrarily slapping the word "secret" on its internal documents and making sure all of its intelligence stays safely within its walls, but when it comes to communicating with the outside world, it's apparently a one-way transaction. It talks (when it wants to and can completely guide the narrative) but it rarely ever listens. Case in point: the Brooklyn DA says he won't prosecute low-level marijuana possession charges, so naturally the Brooklyn division tells its officers that low-level marijuana possession arrests will continue uninterrupted.
Now, it's facing a lawsuit for its refusal to stop arresting citizens for filming police officers. A recent court of appeals decision UPHELD (all caps for a reason) the public's First Amendment right to film police officers and other public servants. The ruling was loaded with exceptions, but it did reaffirm what was already a legal right, albeit one that is routinely trampled by members of law enforcement who take offense to being publicly recorded while performing their public duties.
A federal lawsuit, which cites arrests of people who recorded police confrontations or activity, was filed on Tuesday asking a judge to declare that people have a right under the First Amendment to film or record officers working in public places.The NYPD apparently believes it's exempt because there's been no specific ruling from a district court covering its jurisdiction. This despite the fact that the DOJ itself fired off a letter in response to a lawsuit brought Baltimore that stated plainly:
The suit was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on behalf of one of the people arrested, and seeks a permanent injunction barring New York City employees from retaliating against those who record them in public.
[T]he justification for this right is firmly rooted in longstanding First Amendment principles.This also despite the fact that its own Patrol Guide say photographing police isn't an arrestable offense.
[T]he Police Department Patrol Guide states that “taking photographs, videotapes or tape recordings” do not constitute probable cause for arrest or detention so long as the activity does not jeopardize the safety of officers or others.This also despite the fact that the NYPD's own chief of federal litigation made the following statement:
"[B]ystanders are allowed to film police officers as long as they’re not interfering with the officers’ duties and/or police operations.”The NYPD may be trying to dodge this on jurisdiction specifics, but note that the DOJ's letter doesn't specify this only applies to Baltimore. The letter plainly says "First Amendment right," which is something applied to all Americans, regardless of jurisdiction. It also references the Glik decision, which plainly established citizens' right to record.
Recording governmental officers engaged in public duties is a form of speech through which private individuals may gather and disseminate information of public concern, including the conduct of law enforcement officers.(2) See, e.g., Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 82 (1st Cir. 2011)The footnote (2) begins with this unambiguous sentence:
There is no binding precedent to the contrary.And yet, the NYPD continues to harass, arrest and shut down citizens who record police interactions. Shawn Thomas' experience, which we detailed here earlier, saw him harassed by a police officer who claimed he was interfering with police business despite the fact that he had to walk 30 feet away from the detained suspect to deliver this statement. The whole interaction began with police intimidation tactics and culminated in the arrest of Thomas.
Thomas was not an isolated incident.
Debra Goodman, was taking a cellphone video of paramedics assisting a woman in a wheelchair on West 73rd Street and Broadway last year before a police officer intervened.This lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction prohibiting retaliatory actions from NYPD officers against those who record them. Time and money are going to be poured into "protecting" a right that already unequivocally exists. And there's no guarantee the NYPD will pay attention even if it receives a jurisdiction-specific injunction. After all, a federal appeals court ruled the state's wiretapping law (something frequently abused to prosecute citizens for recording cops) was unconstitutional and this decision was greeted by Morgan County prosecutors and law enforcement with a "so, business as usual" shrug. It took the involvement of the ACLU to get Morgan County to align itself with a ruling that plainly stated recording police was not a violation of the wiretapping statute.
"He asked me to produce ID. I refused, because I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Goodman told CBS. “And then he grabbed my arm and handcuffed me, and told me I was under arrest.” She was held for 25 hours.
What the NYPD is doing is ignoring common knowledge and several court decisions. The DOJ's letter may have been addressed to Baltimore's police department, but the wording (and the cases cited) apply to every law enforcement agency. The US government itself has declared that citizens have this right, something that comes bundled with the First Amendment. It's utterly ridiculous that anyone should have to force the issue in a "local" court in order to make the NYPD respect citizens' First Amendment rights.