from the the-power-of-public-shaming dept
As we recently covered, First Amendment activist/photographer Carlos Miller was facing felony charges for witness intimidation after posting the public phone number of the Boston Police Department’s public relations officer on his website and encouraging readers to call and try to get wiretapping charges dropped against Taylor Hard, another PINAC photographer.
Apparently, the BPD didn’t care for the deluge of calls and Detective Moore took it upon himself to make contacting the department’s public relations number a crime. Miller responded by posting all of this publicly and hired a Boston-area lawyer to represent him at the hearing.
The Boston Police Department agreed to withdraw the felony complaints against myself and PINAC associate Taylor Hardy on the condition that readers stop flooding their phone lines with calls demanding that they withdraw the complaints.
As if I would have any say in that.
But to paraphrase my attorney: Please. Stop. Calling. They get the message.
Here’s his lawyer’s statement:
“I am happy we were able to resolve this to Carlos’ and Taylor’s satisfaction, with criminal charge applications dropped by BPD, so that Carlos and Taylor can continue their work fighting for lawfulness, openness and transparency in police work across the country. Going forward they will not let up on their vigorous defense of citizen freedom. They understand that the law in Massachusetts is that they have to tell people if they are recording a conversation, and they have assured BPD that they will always announce that they are recording when asking for recorded comments, which has always been their practice.”
The Boston PD also had a few other requests. It also asked that Taylor Hardy remove his video of his conversation with the public relations officer (something he had already done) as well as asking that anyone recording phone calls with Boston public officials inform them that they are recording, something PINAC has always done.
Between the heat generated by the story’s spread through the media and Miller’s retention of one of the best lawyers in Boston, the ridiculous “witness intimidation” charges never even made it to the hearing.
Only hours after we had retained Duncan, he received a call from a police attorney asking to mediate, which is why Thursday’s hearing was postponed.
And as the attorneys mediated, the call floods continued, and the media exposure increased.
And there was pretty much nothing left for them to do but to lay their fiddle down because they knew they had been beat.
The BPD doesn’t come out of this looking good. But it also doesn’t come out this looking chastened either. All appearances indicate Detective Moore would have followed through with his witness intimidation charges and was only forced to relent in the face of mounting criticism. This suggests that whatever lessons were learned here will swiftly be forgotten when a citizen without such robust backing attempts to record police officers and other public officials. Officers might be more hesitant to simply shut down photographers knowing the info might make its way back to PINAC and places beyond, but the number of concessions the PD asked for before dropping the charges shows it’s still trying to hold onto as much power as possible.
The letter from the Boston PD’s legal counsel is even more troubling in its implication.
“As we discussed, I have notified the court that the probable cause hearing regarding the application for criminal complaints against Mr. Miller and Mr. Hardy is no longer necessary as the parties have reached a mutually agreeable resolution.”
This letter gives no indication that the BPD felt that the witness intimidation charges were bogus. All this says is that the BPD will drop bogus charges when faced with large amounts of public criticism and a solid lawyer. There’s nothing anywhere that suggests Det. Moore is rolling back his claims that contacting the public relations numbers isn’t a crime. Instead, it looks as though Moore will still be able to selectively decide which phone calls are fine and which are “witness intimidation” and that the BPD will attempt to prosecute those not fortunate enough to generate media heat or secure a good lawyer.
PINAC’s win does create some breathing room for citizen photographers, but the only thing that will be holding BPD officers back from bringing wiretapping charges will be the underlying threat of public humiliation, rather than legal precedents like the 2011 Glik decision.