from the notre-dammit dept
Most legislators know this. But some legislators still yearn to protect cops from accountability. So, they push bills that install “time and place” restrictions in hopes of limiting the number of recordings law enforcement officers can’t directly control.
Utilizing bullshit arguments about “interference” or “harassment,” legislators have pushed bills creating an unconstitutional radius in which no recordings can occur. Some of these bills have even become law. But not for long. They tend to immediately wilt in the face of the first constitutional challenge.
A law recently passed in Indiana creates a legally bogus radius of 25 feet around cops. It’s not that lawmakers actually think people routinely interfere with arrests or other cop activity. It’s been enacted because subservient lawmakers think this will make most recordings of cops pretty much useless. Here’s Emma Camp with the details for Reason:
In March, the state legislature passed a law making it a misdemeanor to “knowingly or intentionally [approach] within twenty-five (25) feet of a law enforcement officer lawfully engaged in the execution of the law enforcement officer’s duties after the law enforcement officer has ordered the person to stop.”
“Our public safety officers have important work to do, and their jobs often involve dangerous and unpredictable situations,” Rep. Wendy McNamara (R–Evansville) said in a February press release. “The goal of this bill is to give officers another tool to help control a scene to maintain their safety and the public’s safety.”
Liar. Or, if not a liar, a useful idiot. People don’t regularly wander right up on top of cops to interrupt their activities. Most people recognize the fact that there are laws already on the books that criminalize these actions.
This is in place to limit useful recordings of police misconduct by Indiana residents. As such, it’s clearly a constitutional violation. The ACLU is now involved in a constitutional challenge of the law in a lawsuit targeting the city of South Bend, Indiana — home of citizen journalist Donald Nicodemus, who (reasonably) fears his recording of cops will be unconstitutionally limited by the state law.
From the lawsuit [PDF]:
Donald Nicodemus is a citizen-journalist who lives in South Bend, Indiana, and monitors the activity of public-safety personnel, primarily the South Bend Police, and who regularly posts videos, some live, on his YouTube channel Freedom 2 Film, which has more than 23,000 subscribers. He does this both to monitor the police and to inform the greater community of what he deems to be newsworthy activities. South Bend police have already enforced Indiana Code § 35-44.1-2-14 against him to prevent him from getting close enough to be able to observe and record their activities, and he reasonably believes that it will continue to be enforced against him in the future.
Indiana Code § 35-44.1-2-14 will therefore negatively affect Mr. Nicodemus’s ability to engage in his constitutional right to observe and record the police without interfering with their activities and to broadcast these observations to other persons. The statute violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutional. Appropriate declaratory and injunctive relief should be issued.
As the ACLU and Nicodemus argue, there’s no reason a new law restricting approaching police officers is needed. Existing laws already criminalize interference and obstruction. Then there’s the 25-foot radius, which is determined by the officer yelling at bystanders, rather than by any objective distance residents (and police officers) can clearly and immediately recognize.
And that distance — which was “stepped off” (I’m quoting directly from the lawsuit) by Officer Stepp (I know right?) to move bystanders back 25 feet — was extended even further after the arrival of another officer.
After approximately 12 minutes, another South Bend police officer, Officer Veal, approached Mr. Nicodemus and others who were gathered at the “25 foot” point ordered by Officer Stepp.
Officer Veal said he was the “crime scene tech” and that this was his crime scene and that Mr. Nicodemus and other persons had to move back another 25 feet.
Officer Veal threatened that those on the corner, including Mr. Nicodemus, would go to jail if they did not move back another 25 feet, stating that there was a “new law,” apparently referring to Indiana Code § 35-44.1-2-14.
Officer Veal apparently interpreted Indiana Code § 35-44.1-2-14 as allowing police to repeatedly push persons back 25 feet at a time based solely on a police officer ordering this.
Law enforcement officers are bad at law. Nothing new about this. And nothing that doesn’t tend to benefit them in the long run, what with qualified immunity and “good faith” and the endless forgiveness of their misdeeds by those employing them.
Not only are they bad at law, they can’t even bring the right tools for the job.
Officer Veal gave Mr. Nicodemus a tape measure and told him he had to move back while holding the tape measure. Mr. Nicodemus complied, although the tape measure only stretched 10 feet.
So, not only is the law dumb and unconstitutional, but cops can’t even enforce it consistently or accurately. Mr. Nicodemus’ interaction with the law may be anecdotal (but most likely recorded). But it points to the larger problem with laws like these: not only do they unnecessarily restrict people’s First Amendment rights, but whatever distance the law proscribes will be defined by the person enforcing it — the sort of thing that lends itself to abuse and makes potential criminals of anyone observing cops performing their duties.