City of Boston Loses Landmark Case Against Man Who Recorded Police Brutality

Flickr/ photographer padawan *(xava du)

Joe Wright
Activist Post

Police departments around the country continue to intimidate citizen journalists into thinking that they have no right to film officials during the course of their duties serving the public. There has been a disturbing trend of arresting people even while filming from their own property; threatening them with 15-20 years, or even life in prison if there are multiple counts.

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of an attempt to redefine illegal wiretapping laws to say that if you secretly record police, then it is a crime every bit as equal to recording your neighbor with a hidden camera or audio device.

One of the men targeted under this interpretation was lawyer, Simon Glik, who was arrested on Tremont Street, Boston in October, 2007 for filming an altercation between three police officers and a teenager.  The officers were attempting to extract a plastic bag from the youth’s mouth.  Glik thought he was witnessing a case of police brutality, so he began filming with his cellphone.  He was arrested within minutes . . . for ” illegal electronic surveillance.  (Source)

Glik is just one of many who have fallen prey to Massachussets’ loose interpretation of wiretapping laws.

John Surmacz filmed police roughly breaking up a holiday party he was attending in Brighton and was arrested and charged with illegal surveillance. (Source).

Madison Ruppert reports that:

Michael Hyde was charged with illegal wiretapping when he used a secretly recorded video of a police encounter as the basis for a harassment complaint. 

Cambridge sound engineer, Jeffrey Manzinelli, was arrested and convicted of illegal wiretapping along with disorderly conduct for recording MBTA police officers at an anti-war rally in 2002. While he openly recorded the officer, which is completely legal, a 2007 court case upheld his conviction on the basis that he had a hidden microphone in his sleeve. 

Peter Lowney was arrested and convicted of illegal wiretapping in 2007 when Boston University police officers claimed he had hid a camera in his coat during a protest. (Source)

And the list goes on.  However, despite this assault on basic protections afforded by the Constitution, there has been an equal backlash resulting in many courts around the country ruling that these eavesdropping laws are, in fact, completely made up and unconstitutional.

Places like Cook County, Illinois have backed the First Amendment in cases like that of Christopher Drew who was facing 15 years in prison for violating the state’s Eavesdropping Act. Another case in Illinois was dismissed in less than one hour. Incidentally, this might have played a part in the decision to move the upcoming NATO/G8 Summit.

Now, the city of Boston has been forced to go one step further than merely acquitting those charged — they have had to respond to Glik’s own lawsuit against them. As part of the settlement, Boston will pay Glik $170,000 in damages and legal fees, thus sending a warning to law enforcement that they will be watched and recorded by the public, as well as a warning to cities and states who will disobey the Constitution. 

As summarized by the ACLU:

The settlement follows a landmark ruling last August by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, declaring that the First Amendment protects the right to record police carrying out their duties in a public place, Glik v. Cunniffe 655 F.3d 78 (2011). The First Circuit’s ruling is binding only in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico, but its persuasive reasoning has been cited by courts and lawyers nationwide facing the recurrent issue of police arresting people for filming them.

The Massachusetts wiretap statute prohibits only secret recording of audio. The First Circuit in Glik’s case affirmed that an arrest under the statute for openly recording the police would violate not only the First Amendment right to gather information but also the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against false arrests.

‘The law had been clear for years that openly recording a video is not a crime. It’s sad that it takes so much for police to learn the laws they were supposed to know in the first place. I hope Boston police officers will never again arrest someone for openly recording their public actions,’ said Glik.

‘The court’s opinion made clear that people cannot be arrested simply for documenting the actions of police officers in public. With this issue squarely resolved against it, it made sense for the City to settle the case rather than continuing to waste taxpayer money defending it,’ said David Milton, one of the attorneys for Glik. (Source)

Citizen journalism is an essential component of a functioning republic, and this latest case gives great hope as America descends in just about every other way into a total police state.  For now, at least in Boston, the watchers will be watched and those whose civil rights have been violated will receive compensation.

For more information about the rights of citizen journalists please visit the excellent site of Carlos Miller: Photography is Not a Crime

Read other articles by Joe Wright here

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