By Joe Wright
Contrary to what many police would like the public to believe, the Constitution isn’t null and void when in their presence. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it can be seen as the public’s duty to hold police accountable during any and all interactions with them.
True, federal courts have disputed such rights in the past, but it is still widely recognized in all 50 states that a person has the right to film police so long as they are not directly interfering with police work. That said, we have covered many cases where people have been threatened, abused, and arrested for filming police, so one must do so at one’s peril.
Checkpoints are particularly contentious, as they have cropped up in ever-increasing numbers across the U.S. According to the latest information from the CDC, sobriety checkpoints in particular are permitted in 38 states and D.C., with only 13 states conducting weekly activity. Again, many people assume that all rights end there. Fortunately, courageous activists have steadfastly refused to obey the arbitrary orders given during these encounters.
The Free State Project in New Hampshire is one such organization that promotes the fundamentals of liberty and engages in a wide variety of activism in order to demonstrate their principles. Despite New Hampshire ranking near the top for the freest states, activist Christopher Waid learned that these principles were not respected in Manchester, NH when he attempted to film a DWI checkpoint on April 20, 2017.
As reported by the New Hampshire Union Leader:
He was on the south side of Bridge Street and crossed two lanes of roadway to reach the median and get closer to the checkpoint. At that point, a confrontation occurred between Waid and Officer Robert Harrington with Harrington telling Waid to move to the sidewalk, according to the claim.
According to the claim, Harrington grabbed Waid’s camera; Waid said he was a member of the press and Harrington had no right to take it.
Harrington said, according to Waid’s lawsuit, “I don’t need you in my face” and demanded identification. Waid said he has no obligation to show an ID.
The lawsuit states that Harrington threatened to jail Waid unless he returned to the sidewalk; Waid said go ahead, and Harrington arrested him for disorderly conduct and jaywalking.
Prosecutors later dropped both charges.
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Although Waid was not charged, he subsequently retained a lawyer who threatened to sue the police department for violating his constitutional rights (1st and 14th Amendments). After a lengthy back-and-forth, the city has capitulated and awarded a settlement of $15,000 to Waid.
The city denies any wrongdoing, and the settlement was reached “to buy peace,” the settlement agreement reads.
It turns out that this particular department is fortunately an anomaly, according to Waid, who said that this was the first time he had ever had an issue with filming a checkpoint. However, this department also has had to pay out for other constitutional violations in the past, according to the report:
In 2017, it paid $275,000 to Alfredo Valentin, whom police arrested in 2015 when he recorded a raid on his house. In 2017, the city also paid $89,000 to Theresa Petrello, a veteran who was arrested in 2015 during a crackdown on panhandling.
Naturally, these expenses are paid by taxpayers, which illustrates the importance of police knowing that the public is watching their every move. Sadly, it can be dangerous simply to encounter police in modern-day America, let alone flex your rights and demand equal respect.
Interestingly, the $15,000 settlement is the same amount that a Colorado bill urged as a fine for police who interfere with the public filming them. Moreover, this bill urged that payment be taken from the officers themselves, which I suspect will do much more to alleviate this problem than passing it on to innocent taxpayers who are arguably already extorted from.
As always, it is important to know the laws in your area and proceed with due caution when interacting with police officers. Be respectful, but have the fortitude to assert your rights. Thank you to Christopher Waid and the many other activists who have shown us the way.
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