HideTechdirt is off for the long weekend! Looking for something to read instead? Check out our new Working Futures anthology »
HideTechdirt is off for the long weekend! Looking for something to read instead? Check out our new Working Futures anthology »

Lawsuit Settlement Over Detainment Of A Journalist Will Force Denver Police Department To Admit The First Amendment Exists

from the being-deliberately-wrong-is-just-playing-the-odds dept

Last summer, Denver police officers decided the First Amendment didn't exist in the city, at least not while they were in the process of helping a naked black man get some medical attention by handcuffing him in the middle of the sidewalk.

Denver PD officers Adam Paulsen and James Brooks noticed journalist Susan Greene filming the incident and decided she needed some law enforcement herself. So they approached her and told her to stop filming by citing an inapplicable law. For whatever reason, they also told her to "act like a lady." Greene was handcuffed and placed in a squad car for 12 minutes before a less-stupid cop contacted these officers and told them to release her.

The whole incident was captured by officers' body cameras, including the repeated suggestion the journalist wasn't "acting like a lady" by contesting the officers' decision to cuff her and put her in the nearest squad car.

Here was the bullshit the cops used to try to shut Greene down:

As Greene detailed in a post the next day, and as the body-cam footage confirms, she approached the scene and was immediately blocked by Officer James Brooks.

He continues to block her as she tries to keep shooting, at one point raising the camera high above Brooks’s head.

Brooks is quickly joined by Officer Adam Paulsen, and the two advise her that she can not take photographs because doing so violates the HIPAA rights of the nearly naked man they have cuffed. HIPAA or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act outlines an individual’s rights to medical privacy.

To be clear, HIPAA isn't violated when officers perform an ultra-weird medical consultation in the middle of public street -- one that involves a strategically-draped towel and a pair of handcuffs. If this man was ultimately taken in for a medical/mental examination and those records were handed over to the reporter, that would be a HIPAA violation. Shooting footage of public servants on a public street performing their public duties doesn't violate the privacy of anyone, medical or otherwise.

The officers also claimed she was interfering with the non-arrest the officers claimed they were not making, apparently oblivious of the fact that they had approached the journalist, rather than the other way around. They also trotted out the "stop resisting" canard to pre-exonerate themselves for their aggressive handling of a person armed with a camera.

Throughout the entire thing -- at least all the way up till the settlement the city is planning to pay Susan Greene -- Denver PD brass acted with useless decorum. Shortly after the incident went public, Police Chief Paul Pazen said people were way too focused on officers ignoring the First Amendment, rather than expressing their concern for the naked person his officers had handcuffed in the middle of the sidewalk.

“It doesn’t appear that you’re asking any questions with regards to how an individual is treated who’s in crisis,” he said at one point in the interview. “That’s really what we all should be focusing in on.”

“In a situation like this, we should look at the whole picture, not just certain segments that could point one person in a bad light.”

Actually, it was two people, chief. And they put themselves in a "bad light" with their actions. The public shouldn't be deterred from asking why police officers are violating Constitutional rights, even if there are other issues at play.

More disheartening was the complaint process, in which one of the officer's supervisors pretty much said filing a complaint would be a waste of everyone's time.

I called Denver Police Department’s District 6 and spoke with Sgt. Shawn Saunders, who supervises Officer Brooks. He said he’d look into the incident and make sure the halo camera footage and other evidence are preserved for review. He gave me the option of filing a formal complaint against Officer Brooks. I told him I’d consider it, but that I don’t have a lot of confidence in Denver’s disciplinary system, which I’ve seen slap officers on the wrists for misconduct far more serious than this, only to have the Career Service Board side with the police union and overturn even the most meager disciplinary measures.

To that, Saunders offered a response that was at once striking yet maddening in its candor.

Yeah, he told me. “I don’t have a lot of confidence in it, either.”

Part of the system works. But it will still be citizens paying for it. Susan Greene is about to receive a payout from the city of Denver.

Denver’s Police Department has agreed to a $50,000 settlement with Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene, whose First Amendment rights officers violated when they wrongfully handcuffed and detained her for photographing police last summer.

The officers who handcuffed and detained her were also punished… by losing two days of pay each.

Finally, the Denver PD will be forced to refresh itself on the contours of Constitutional protections -- basic stuff these officers were certainly aware of before they decided government might beats First Amendment rights.

As part of the settlement, Denver agrees to significantly strengthen First Amendment and sensitivity trainings for police through at least 2024. The department also will update its policies on police bias and search and seizure of recording devices.

We know officers aren't expected to know the intricacies of the laws they enforce. In fact, they're barely expected to know anything about the multiple statutes they use to detain and arrest people. But we should expect them to know just enough about Constitutional protections to realize they can't handcuff a person just for filming them. The thing is, they very likely do know this. Some officers just choose to ignore this knowledge because they think they might get away with it. They didn't here, and now citizens will be footing the bill for these officers and their unwillingness to respect the rights of the people they're supposed to protect.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, adam paulsen, filming police, free speech, james brooks, journalist, susan greene


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 11:29am

    Sure about that?

    The thing is, they very likely do know this. Some officers just choose to ignore this knowledge because they think they might get away with it. They didn't here, and now citizens will be footing the bill for these officers and their unwillingness to respect the rights of the people they're supposed to protect.

    ...

    The officers who handcuffed and detained her were also punished… by losing two days of pay each.

    The taxpayers are out $50,000.

    Those actually responsible are out two days worth of pay.

    Unless Denver police are paid $12,500 per day(and if they are that probably needs looking into...) that certainly sounds like they 'got away with it' to me.

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

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 21 Sep 2019 @ 7:03pm

      Re: Sure about that?

      This sort of thing is why I have been suggesting for years that while you can certainly sue after the fact, it does little or nothing to deter future misbehavior.

      But here's the thing -- anything you could sue in federal court for under Title 42, Section 1983 and win, is also a criminal act (in the handcuffs, booking, jailing and posting bail sense) under Title 18, Sections 241 and 242.

      You can make a completely binding, stands up in court citizen's arrest using words alone. The US Supreme Court ruled that if a citizen can make an arrest for a given type of state level crime (misdemeanor, breach of peace, felony, etc) they can also make a federal level citizen's arrest under similar circumstances.

      So if you see a cop violating rights while in possession of a firearm, or two (or more) cops acting together to violate rights, use your words and inform them that you are arresting them. You don't even need to have a bystander do it -- being under arrest does not prevent you from making arrests, unless you are doing so as a form of resisting or escaping from arrest.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 12:26pm

    Act like a civil servant and not an authoritarian asshole who doesn't know the law.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:02pm

    They had no cause to mess with her and should pay the price.

    She had no cause to be filming and should think that over next time.

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

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:06pm

      Re:

      Why do you think she had no cause?

      When police detain somebody, what do nearby people do?

      Do they..
      A) Search for the nearest table to hide under
      B) Look and Observe
      C) Pull out their AR-15s

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:11pm

      You contradict yourself

      "She had no cause to be filming and should think that over next time."

      Why not? She's a reporter and they are public servants doing a job in public. To her credit, she wasn't waiting for the 'if it bleeds it leads' opportunity.

      And, in simple fact, she caught those public servants doing things they shouldn't have been doing. The public has a right to know about those things.

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

      • identicon
        Baron von Robber, 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:12pm

        Re: You contradict yourself

        And it does seem odd that the police were filming too and yet, our AC doesn't think she should be allowed to film public servants who are also filming.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:22pm

      The police are public servants. The public should, and does, have the right to film active duty police officers for any reason at all. Such filming is (far too) often the only way officers will face accountability for their actions.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:29pm

      Re:

      She had no cause to be filming and should think that over next time.

      And ignoring what the police are doing is how you end up with a very corrupt police force. Once they get the message that they can and likely are being filmed while in public, maybe they will start to behave as police officers, rather than thugs.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 2:25pm

      Re: Found the badge bunny!

      She had more cause to film than you have cause to comment.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2019 @ 9:21am

      Re:

      She had no cause to be filming and should think that over next time.

      None of those involved had an expectation of privacy on a public fucking street. The filming is irrelevant.

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

    • identicon
      Dave P., 19 Sep 2019 @ 9:54am

      Re:

      Stupid comment. She had every right and cause to film, if only to make sure the poor guy being "attended to" was treated in a fair way and not abused, as it seems SHE was!

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

    • identicon
      TRob ARob, 23 Sep 2019 @ 12:17am

      Re:

      You are stupid. The journalist has EVERY Right to film. The cops had NO reason to even approach her. They did so thinking that that HIPAA crap that they spout would get her to stop. When it didn't they feloniously went hands-on.

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

  • icon
    Dan Neely (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:25pm

    “It doesn’t appear that you’re asking any questions with regards to how an individual is treated who’s in crisis,” he [Police Chief Paul Pazen] said at one point in the interview. “That’s really what we all should be focusing in on.”

    Well if you insist on bringing it up, leaving an apparently mentally ill person cuffed on the sidewalk for any length of time with only a towel attempting to protect his dignity doesn't make your people look that good either.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 4:14pm

      '... wait, no, don't focus on that either.'

      Yeah, as excuses go that one was rather counter-productive.

      'Don't focus on how the cops on the scene reacted to someone filming them by making bad excuses and finally arresting them, focus on the fact that they ignored an almost naked person handcuffed and left in the middle of the street while they were harassing the person filming them.'

      Because that makes them look so much better...

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 4:19pm

        Re: '... wait, no, don't focus on that either.'

        Bah, typo, and a rather important one to mess up at that...

        '... focus on the fact that they ignored an almost naked person handcuffed and left in the middle of the sidewalk while they were harassing the person filming them.'

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

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 19 Sep 2019 @ 12:15pm

      Re:

      Yeah, I don’t see how that makes me see the cops in any better of a light seeing how they treat a naked black man with a medical problem by handcuffing him as opposed to detaining a female journalist filming the “non-arrest” from a distance while telling her to “act more ladylike”. Well, except that the former merely suggests that the cops may be bigots while the latter leaves little room to doubt.

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

  • icon
    Miles (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:38pm

    She did interfere

    "She was interfering with the non-arrest the officers claimed they were not making."

    They had to drop what they were doing to walk across the street to beat her ass.

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:42pm

      Re: She did interfere

      The way you put it, it sounds more like she was aiding in their agenda, rather than interfering. Their walk across the street was wrong, as is their alleged agenda.

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

  • icon
    JdL (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 2:57pm

    Cops: worse than useless

    In other words, acting just as they normally do. To state the obvious, these two thugs should pay the $50,000 out of their own pockets. AND be fired.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 5:51pm

      Re: Cops: worse than useless

      When even the anti-vaxxer can point out how full of shit you are, you know you done fucked up...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 3:16pm

    “It doesn’t appear that you’re asking any questions with regards to how an individual is treated who’s in crisis,” ...

    The only statement I could find regarding how the particular "individual" involved was treated is from the Colorado Independent ...

    Dulacki [a records administrator] did say, however, that the naked man, who’s not been identified, was not arrested. He has been released from the hospital.

    So he wasn't ill enough or important enough for the police to identify. Nice wookie you have there, Chief Pazen.

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

    • identicon
      urza9814, 19 Sep 2019 @ 10:13am

      Re:

      ..are you implying that police should release the identity of any person they interact with all day long, even when that person was not accused nor convicted of any crime? That seems like an even worse idea than attempting to arrest journalists IMO.

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

  • identicon
    Michael, 19 Sep 2019 @ 5:25am

    Training

    "strengthen First Amendment and sensitivity trainings for police through at least 2024"

    So someone told the police they need to improve their officer training, but it was fine to go back to this behavior after 5 years? I wonder if that would work for non-police officers that engage in criminal behavior.

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

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 19 Sep 2019 @ 6:51am

    Not a punishment for the cops

    Rogue cops will continue to be rogue as long as they are never personally punished. Taxpayers get punished, but not the cops. Take their pensions! Hit them in their own pockets. Sue the unions who protect bad cops. Strip them of everything they own. It is way past time to attack cops and their unions with RICO violations. They are worse than the MAFIA.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.