DOJ Weighs In On Police Taping Case

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

In May 2010, Christopher Sharp used his cell phone camera to record Baltimore City Police officers arrest and beat a female acquaintance at the Plimlico Race Course. The officers detained Sharp, seized his cell phone, and returned it later with all his videos deleted, including videos of his young son at sports events. Sharp filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City Maryland which was later moved the United States District Court for the district of Maryland.

The United States Department of Justice has decided to get involved, on the side of Sharp.

The DOJ filed a Statement of Interest of the United States with the District Court. The statement starts off with a bang:

This litigation presents constitutional questions of great moment in this digital age: whether private citizens have a First Amendment right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties, and whether officers violate citizens’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they seize and destroy such recordings without a warrant or due process. The United States urges this Court to answer both of those questions in the affirmative.

The DOJ statement claims that the First Amendment protects the recording of police officers performing their duties in public. The statement cites the case of Glik v. Cunniffe (2011) wherein the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that the First Amendment “unambiguously” protects the right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public.

The DOJ statement also notes that in Roaden v. Kentucky (1973), the United States Supreme Court found that material that is protected under the First Amendment and is seized by a police officer, “without the authority of a constitutionally sufficient warrant, is plainly a form of prior restraint and is, in those circumstances, unreasonable under Fourth Amendment standards.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District, in Altman v. City of High Point North Carolina (2003) wrote that “[a] seizure of personal property conducted without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable.”

The DOJ statement argues that the seizure and destruction of Sharp’s property without due process is prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. In the case of Mathews v. Eldridge (1976), the United States Supreme Court wrote that the “right to be heard before being condemned to suffer grievous loss of any kind … is a principle basic to our society.” Lofty words, frequently forgotten.

While it’s about time the DOJ started weighting in on these violations of a citizen’s constitutional rights, unless punishments are meted out to the officers involved, nothing will change. As long as officers can get away with this unconstitutional activity, the activity will continue. This is not an issue of training, it is an issue of discipline.

If the DOJ is sincere about their desire to prevent these constitutional abuses from continuing, they should bring charges against the officers for violation of 18 U.S. Code – Section 242, Deprivation of rights under color of law.

H/T: The Agitator, The Baltimore Sun, National Press Photographers Association, ACLU of Maryland, Simple Justice.

28 thoughts on “DOJ Weighs In On Police Taping Case”

  1. No one took up the issue I raised of whether the First Amendment provides the right to arm bears. That right is provided in the Second Amendment not the First Amendment.
    The cops might backdate some things and show the camera as seized in evidence. It was evidence of a crime–the citizen was fighting.
    The pltf camera owner should take depostions of every cop who would be in the chain of custody of seized evidence. When the camera plaintiffs attorney takes the statement of the cops who seized the camera he/she might want to read them their rights to remain silent. These statements may be used in any criminal tria against the cops for theft. It would start the deposition off nicely.
    The depositions should be video depositions.

  2. First things first..

    Because of the video taping/confiscation case , the battery case lacks evidence – making it a “he said, she said” situation.. which courts usually find in favor of, Surprise!, the cops. If the video confiscation/destruction is found to be illegal (currently, several states find it legal for police to confiscate/destroy video evidence), ie, if taping _is_ found to be legal & cannot be stopped, then the occurrence of further ‘battery at the hands of LE’ cases will likely diminish.. this would be a _good_ thing.

    Obama seems to take the l o n g view.. The DOJ appears to be following his lead.

    Anyone else remember the last verse of “Who’ll Stop the Rain”?

    give a fish, or teach to fish.. help one across.. or build a bridge for all..

    I am hurt that the woman was assaulted. If the DOJ can get this ruling, her pain will become the source of benefit for untold many in future years. As it is, her pain _cannot_ be undone.. therefore, let us use the situation to create an environment where it will _not_ happen again. For this reason, I feel the DOJ approach is the best one..

    “Few seem to know that punishment simply extends the pain to one more person..”


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