|Flickr/ photographer padawan *(xava du)|
Madison Ruppert, Contributing Writer
Over a month ago, Steve Horrigan, a Florida resident, was arrested on charges of felony wiretapping for the high crime of recording video of police in public with his cell phone.
The Sarasota County, Florida State Attorney’s Office has yet to even formally file charges against Horrigan, and the North Port Police Department has not yet returned his cell phone.
Unfortunately, Horrigan’s case is not some isolated anomaly, but instead part of a much larger war on citizens who attempt to hold police accountable for their activities and do so in a wholly legal manner.
The state of Horrigan’s case has him in legal limbo wherein he cannot move forward with his lawsuit, and the state attorney has even more time before they have to file charges.
On top of the felony wiretapping, Horrigan is facing a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest without violence, something which Carlos Miller characterizes as “the usual tack-on charge in Florida when you’ve pissed off the cops.”
Under state law in Florida, an individual who was arrested for a misdemeanor must be tried within 90 days of the arrest, while a felony arrest gives a period of 175 days.
Horrigan was arrested on January 25 of this year, so the state attorney has more time to make him squirm before they have to bring him to trial.
Thankfully, Horrigan’s case is getting some attention, at least amongst the local media like the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Recently they ran an in-depth piece not only about Horrigan’s case, but the nationwide struggle between citizens who want to hold police accountable and those individuals who refuse to allow citizens to exercise this right.
Unfortunately, the author of the piece failed to point out the fact that there is absolutely no legal basis upon which an officer can arrest an individual for filming them in public carrying out their public duties where they have no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Indeed, Miller points to four cases he has covered (which you can read about here, here, here and here) where residents of Florida had been arrested for recording police on video in public, all of which ended up being dismissed.
There is also the precedent set in Illinois where a judge declared their law – which is quite similar to the Florida law – unconstitutional.
North Port Police Captain Robert Estrada defended the actions of law enforcement, claiming that Horrigan crossed the line when he recorded what was supposedly a confidential conversation between officers, after having been ordered to stop.
However, Estrada admits that he has not actually seen Horrigan’s video, and he also admits that the police were operating in a public place where there is no expectation of privacy.
Estrada employs some laughably fallacious logic in stating, “If the officers there were yelling to each other loud enough for everyone to hear, that would obviously not constitute a personal conversation,” but since police did not consent to being recorded and they had to divert their attention from the traffic stop to deal with Horrigan, they arrested him.
“It is a gray area, I don’t know,” Estrada admitted. “It’s up to the courts to decide.”
Horrigan, on the other hand, agrees with Florida prosecutors (and the actual law) in saying that the law is actually black and white, without the massive gray area which Estrada would prefer to exploit.
It is completely nonsensical for Estrada to claim he knew that the conversation was confidential, or that he is at all qualified to speak on the details of the case, while also claiming that he has never actually seen the video in question.
Horrigan thinks the reasons behind his arrest are quite different than the supposed eavesdropping of a confidential conversation.
“The two guys who they stopped in the car that I was recording are fighting their charges, even though they are pretty minor. Both are 2nd degree misdemeanors, so I’ll be going to their hearings to see what’s up with that,” Horrigan writes in an email. “It’s pretty egregious that the cops arrested both of these guys even though there were two pre-toddlers in the back seat. Those poor kids were probably terrified.”
“They had to wait for a family member to get there to take the kids home, otherwise they would have called the children services. I was in handcuffs in the police car before they arrested the two brothers so I couldn’t get that recorded. That is probably why they nicked me, so that I wouldn’t have been able to record the screaming kids in the back seat after arresting Dad for driving on a restricted license. These cops have no shame at all,” he concluded.
I would not be at all surprised if prosecutors waited up until the last possible moment, holding on to his cell phone the entire time, just to never file charges and hand over his phone with no explanation whatsoever.
On top of causing considerable hardship and stress for Horrigan, this would make it much harder, if not impossible, for him to file a lawsuit since they both returned his phone and failed to actually file charges.
This is yet another instance of calculated police harassment of citizens who exercise their right to record police in public and hold them accountable for their activities.
I thought that the Illinois decision would help discourage this kind of behavior, but apparently such decisions will have to be made on a state-by-state basis before police and prosecutors start paying attention.