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Lawsuit Seeks to Establish Your Constitutional Right To Record Police Activity

Civil liberties lawyer Normal Siegel has filed a landmark lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan earlier this week on behalf of Debra Goodman, who was arrested “without reason or probably cause” for videotaping officers and emergency medical technicians on the Upper West Side.

“This lawsuit seeks to establish First Amendment rights to record police activity,” Siegel tells ANIMAL. “There’s now a dispute between the circuits courts, which is prime ground for [bringing the case to] the U.S. Supreme Court,” Siegel explains.

The NYPD patrol guide instructors officers not to charge someone for recording an arrest, as long as they don’t get in the way of arrest. “The patrol guide could be changed tomorrow,” Siegel points out. “I don’t want it to be a policy. I want it to be a Constitutional right.” He also wants the NYPD to undergo training programs similar to those conducted by the Baltimore Police Department after the city settled a $250,000 lawsuit filed by Christopher Sharp, who alleged that the cops seized his phone and deleted a video of an arrest made in 2010.

The lawsuit document, embedded above, explicitly states:

Individuals have the right to record the public activities of police officers, and such recording helps to ensure the police remain accountable to the public. The NYPD’s widespread policy, practice and custom of arresting, threatening to arrest or otherwise interfering with individuals who attempt to record police performing their official duties infringes on individuals’ First Amendment Rights.

It cites such cases as the attack on bicyclist Christopher Long by NYPD Officer Patrick Pogan which “lead to Pogan’s conviction for filing a criminal complaint containing false statements and his discharge from the NYPD.”

It also cites the case of Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, who pepper-sprayed two women during an Occupy Wall Street protest, and was disciplined due to citizen videojournalism.

We have seen multiple cases nationwide of cops behaving badly on videotape, and reacting badly to being recorded. This ruling would not only establish our rights, but save the police more potential misconduct lawsuits and keep them focused on serving and protecting, and not bullying journalists and others exercising their rights.