Tag: cops on camera

Cops on Camera Update

A Maryland judge has thrown out the first of three assault charges against two police officers who were caught on tape beating student John McKenna after a 2010 University of Maryland basketball game. The judge said “there was not enough evidence” to show the officers were engaged in first-degree assault. Second-degree assault and official misconduct charges remain.

We might argue about whether dropping those charges was the right call. What we know for certain is that before the tape surfaced, McKenna was the one charged with assaulting officers and a police horse. A good samaritan’s cell phone video was the only thing standing between justice and the student being branded a criminal and thrown in jail.

The lesson should be clear. Citizens recording police encounters can reveal truths the police might prefer to hide. Evan Banks and I made a short video detailing the incident (among others) and the importance of protecting the right of bystanders to record the police.

Cops on Camera in Fullerton, Calif.

In large part because of social media and consumer-level video technology, two Fullteron, Calif. police officers likely involved in the death of Kelly Thomas have now been charged with murder, manslaughter and excessive use of force. Reason.tv’s Paul Detrick has produced an excellent video detailing the events that led to the charges. Be warned: Some of the images presented here are quite disturbing.

Still many jurisdictions claim that they can arrest and charge individuals when they use video technology to document police engaged in their public duties, even when those people are documenting police abuse. Further, police agencies are often reluctant to use video documentation to show what happens in high-stakes police encounters like SWAT raids. Cato’s “Cops on Camera” video last year provides some context about how technology can be used by individuals and should be used by police to help document how police do their jobs.

First Circuit Affirms Right to Record the Police

Right to Record, a website devoted to the legal aspects of recording police officers, has the scoop. A panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the right of citizens to openly record police officers.

Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.” Moreover, as the Court has noted, “[f]reedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government because ‘[i]t is here that the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.’” This is particularly true of law enforcement officials, who are granted substantial discretion that may be misused to deprive individuals of their liberties. Ensuring the public’s right to gather information about their officials not only aids in the uncovering of abuses, but also may have a salutary effect on the functioning of government more generally.

Read the whole thing. It provides a great discussion of the developing legal landscape, as well as some juicy details — like the fact that the attorney defending the statute for Massachusetts wrote her student note about how the Massachusetts wiretapping law is unconstitutional.

This decision is a big deal. The case comes from Massachusetts, one of two states (the other being Illinois) that continues to criminalize recording audio in public. It’s the latest in a string of victories against the Massachusetts wiretapping law that has become a useful tool for police who want to shield their actions from public scrutiny. A Massachusetts District Attorney recently refused to proceed with charges against a woman who recorded a vicious police beating, the D.A. declaring that police officers have no reasonable expectation of privacy while on duty and in public. Cop Block founders Pete Eyre and Adam Mueller were just acquitted on felony wiretapping charges for openly recording their encounter with police officers Massachusetts.

Moving on to the other holdout, Illinois, a woman who surreptitiously recorded Chicago Police Internal Affairs officers trying to persuade her not to file a sexual harassment complaint against police officers was acquitted of felony wiretapping charges. All of this sets the stage for the ACLU v. Alvarez, a lawsuit seeking to prevent future wiretapping charges against citizens who record on-duty police in public.

For more Cato work on the right to record police, take a look at this video and this post on Anthony Graber’s victory over abuse of the Maryland wiretapping statute. Speaking of which, Right to Record provides a page on the Maryland wiretapping statute, supplying the decision in Graber’s case for anyone who faces similar charges in the future.

The War on Cameras Continues

High drama in Miami. Carlos Miller provides a good summary (H/T Radley):

Miami Beach police did their best to destroy a citizen video that shows them shooting a man to death in a hail of bullets Memorial Day.

First, police pointed their guns at the man who shot the video, according to a Miami Herald interview with the videographer.

Then they ordered the man and his girlfriend out the car and threw them down to the ground, yelling “you want to be fucking paparazzi?”

Then they snatched the cell phone from his hand and slammed it to the ground before stomping on it. Then they placed the smashed phone in the videographer’s back pocket as he was laying down on the ground.

And finally, they took him to a mobile command center where they snapped his photo and demanded the phone again, then took him to police headquarters where they conducted a recorded interview with him before releasing him.

But what they didn’t know was that Narces Benoit had removed the SIM card and hid it in his mouth, which means the video survived.

Here is the video:

There’s more at the Miami Herald. For more on this trend, check out Reason’s coverage of the war on cameras and this Cato forum with the Maryland prosecutor who tried to prosecute a motorcyclist for recording a state police officer that performed a traffic stop at gunpoint. Cato’s video Cops on Camera discusses the accountability that citizen journalism can bring to law enforcement.

Monday Links

  • “Sadly, in Egypt’s case, a freely elected civilian government may prove powerless in the face of the deeply entrenched and well-organized military.”
  • “Washington politicians from both parties, and bureaucrats, have for decades successfully decreased our freedom and liberties as they have regulated more and more of our lives, including our retirement.”
  • “The Ryan proposal correctly focuses on achieving debt reduction through spending cuts, but this very gradual debt reduction schedule is a weakness that could lead to its downfall.”
  • “Nearly two years ago Sen. McCain, along with Senators Graham and Lieberman, was supping with Qaddafi in Tripoli, discussing the possibility of Washington providing military aid.”
  • Cato media fellow Radley Balko joined FOX Business Network’s Stossel recently to discuss your right to make video recordings of police, and why exercising that right frequently is vital to liberty:


Cops and Cameras: Legal and on TV

The controversy over citizens getting arrested for recording on-duty law enforcement officers is prompting legislation. Connecticut has a two-party wiretap law (the audio of a recording is the justification for arrest) and is looking to pass a statute that specifically protects citizen journalism. This is preventive medicine more than anything — Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts have been the chief offenders — but a welcome development nonetheless.

The headset cameras I’ve written about are going to make their reality TV debut on Police POV on the TruTV network. The series will show footage of officers in Cincinnati, Chattanooga, and Fort Smith, Arkansas, all filmed with cameras mounted on the officers. The promotional footage shows at least one SWAT raid, proof positive that if you’re willing to strap on a helmet and 45 pounds of body armor and gear, a couple of extra pounds of camera aren’t a bridge too far, and ought to be required.

While Radley Balko has highlighted some shenanigans with police reality TV shows, creating a new normal where officers not only accept the prospect of being filmed on the job but embrace the technology for evidentiary and liability reasons is a step in the right direction. I make the case for more cameras in law enforcement operations with Radley and Clark Neilly in this video:

Cop-Cams on the Rise

The police in Austin, Texas will be testing nine different body-mounted cameras over the next 30 to 60 days. This is a positive development for both officers and citizens. It’s good legal defense for officers against false claims of excessive force and a training tool to show trainees best practices. It’s good incentive for officers to act within the bounds of the law. Video also makes for solid evidence in court. Many jurisdictions require law enforcement officers to record confessions and/or interrogations. Steve Chapman argued last year that the FBI should adopt such a policy.

Recording should be mandatory in SWAT raids, the most intense law enforcement encounters. I make the case for recording SWAT operations with Radley Balko and Clark Neily in this video: