EXCLUSIVE. Loyola University Professor Ralph Braseth in Chicago has shared with me a complaint alleging another incident of police ordering a citizen to delete videotape of an arrest taken in public. I have previously written about this worrisome trend. The difference is that Braseth is a journalism professor. The complaint raises some extremely serious allegations of censuring a journalist and violating core constitutional rights. If true, it is a telling retort to the taunting remarks of Judge Richard Posner recently about the “snooping” of citizens on police.
Professor Braseth contacted me soon after the incident and we have been discussing the case. Here is an account on a radio program where an alleged officer calls to suggest that Braseth was not only committing a crime by filming on CTA property but that he had some weird interest in teenage boys — a ridiculous personal attack that the host wisely slaps down. Braseth was producing a documentary on African American teenagers from the Southside that gather on Michigan Avenue on Saturday nights. He was shooting an arrest on Saturday, November 12, 2011 when he says officers spotted him and took him to their cruiser. They allegedly asked for his camera and erased the arrest footage and “told me I was lucky I wasn’t going to jail and let me go.” Notably, in the complaint below, Braseth notes that not only the other officer but the CTA camera system could supply corroboration for his claims. This account is troubling in itself, but Chicago has a history to pursuing citizens for filming officers in public(here and here). The Cook County’s State Attorney Anita Alvarez and other prosecutors in the state show little concern for the constitutional rights of citizens in such taping or the obvious effort to deter citizens from recording evidence of possible police abuse. This is ironic since Chicago is one of the cities installing hundreds of cameras to film citizens in public, as discussed in this recent column.
Braseth has now filed the complaint below with the Chicago Police Department. It is an important case raising core constitutional and journalistic values. I have no reason to doubt the account of Professor Braseth, though the officer deserve a full opportunity to respond. If found to be true, this is a cautionary lesson for his students at Loyola, but he is teaching by example by taking action in this way. Obviously, the CPD should immediately move to preserve the CTA film and separately question the officers in the incident so that the allegations can be fully investigated. We will be following the case closely.