On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the Constitution protects the right of individuals to videotape police officers making an arrest.
The opinion is related to a suit that was filed on behalf of Simon Glik, who was arrested in Boston in October 2007 for using his cellphone to record police officers making an arrest.
Mr. Glik’s suit claims that police violated his First Amendment rights by stopping him from recording and his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause. The arresting officers appealed a district court ruling denying them qualified immunity from the suit. But a three-judge panel upheld the lower court’s decision.
The ruling is an important one – especially given the unfortunately growing number of videos capturing officers using excessive and at times deadly force.
On January 1, 2009, former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant, who was lying face down and handcuffed. Despite multiple video accounts of the incident, Mehserle was only convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served less than one year. However, the footage of the killing helped bring international attention to the incident and sparked protests across the country.
In July 2011, multiple video cameras captured six Fullerton Police Officers beat Kelly Thomas and use a stun gun on him as he screamed out for his father. Mr. Thomas – who suffered from untreated schizophrenia – later died as a result of the severe beating.
Video continues to serve as an important tool that LA CAN uses in the fight for human and civil rights in Skid Row. For example, the video below of LAPD officers beating a Skid Row resident brought early attention to the brutality of the Safer Cities Initiative.
In recent years, the LAPD itself has begun to recognize the power of video. Video and phone cameras are used regularly to monitor police activity as part of LA CAN’s Community Watch Program. What we have learned is that often times the mere presence of a camera deters LAPD officers from harassing and otherwise violating the rights of Skid Row residents.
These incidents represent just a few examples of how critical a role cell phone video cameras can play in making sure police officers are held accountable for their actions.