Rights experts confront cops who threaten people recording them

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

The Rutherford Institute, which battles in the nation’s courts for the religious, privacy, and other constitutional rights of Americans, is warning police.

That would be not to retaliate against citizens who legally are recording police officers in the performance of their duties in public.

In a statement, the organization said there have been a number of police officers across the nation who apparently don’t understand – or recognize – the rights covered by the First Amendment.

In a letter to the San Francisco Police Commission, in response to a proposal to limit the rights of citizens, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, chief of the institute, explained, “Citizens who exercise their First Amendment right to film police in public serve as watchdog reminders to police that as public servants, they are accountable to ‘we the people.’

“Moreover, Americans should be able to record their interactions with police without fear of arrest, assault, or being subjected to harassment or intimidation tactics. The ability to record police interactions in public provides for greater accountability when it comes to police interactions with the citizenry and should be preserved as a necessary right of the people.”

The institute has had a number of encounters with such problems, it detailed in its report.

“As more attention has been paid to the prevalence of police brutality, more Americans have begun filming the police in their daily interactions. Unfortunately, in those instances when police are averse to the notion of being recorded, it can result in retaliation, brutality, and even false charges for those daring to exercise their First Amendment rights in such a way,” the institute explained.

For example, the report noted, “A police officer in Colorado stood in front of a YouTube journalist to intentionally block his camera view of a DUI traffic stop, shined a flashlight into his camera, drove his police cruiser at the journalist, and repeatedly blasted his air horn.”

Courts found later that the officer was liable for those actions because the filming clearly was protected by the First Amendment.

A growing number of federal appeals courts have been aligned with similar rulings, even though the Supreme Court hasn’t yet issued that very opinion.

“In Irizarry v. Yehia, although the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that it had not yet specifically recognized a First Amendment right to film the police, it found that the right was nonetheless clearly established ‘beyond debate’ by every circuit which had considered the issue – pointing out and summarizing cases from the First, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal,” the institute reported.

It did explain that efforts to record police “must not interfere with police” duties.

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