The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on a case from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocking the enforcement of an Illinois eavesdropping law. The broadly written law -- the most stringent in the country -- makes it a felony to make an audio recording of someone without their permission, punishable by four to 15 years in prison. The 7th Circuit Court found a specific First Amendment right to record police officers.1
[You're under arrest]
This is great win for civil liberties. The immediacy and impact of a video recording has changed the game for some significant cases, especially in cases of police brutality. A case locally in New York highlights the importance of such recordings.
Luis Solivan's (left) arrest was captured on video from a kitchen window on the street (right).
Luis Solivan, 19 was stopped by police officers on a Bronx street. Solivan panicked and fled the officers, and ran into his family's apartment. The cops followed him and arrested him. He was charged with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. If convicted Mr. Solivan faced years in prison. It turned out a neighbor recorded the entire arrest through an apartment window; after seeing the arrest, a grand jury dismissed all the charges.
Ilann M. Maazel, a lawyer representing Mr. Solivan, said that but for the video, “I think there’s a real likelihood that the grand jury would have indicted him. What it shows is shocking, It revealed that the police did not tell the truth; and they wanted to put an innocent man in jail, potentially for many years.” The video shows Solivan on the floor, being repeatedly hit in the face by police officers. That same video is now the basis of a civil case being filed against those officers in Federal Court.
The lawsuit names the officers as Thomas Dekoker and Brian R. O’Keeffe. In an unrelated case, Officer Dekoker was one of three police defendants found liable this summer in a jury trial over allegations of using excessive force against a man after responding to a call in the Bronx in 2008. The jury awarded $500,000 in punitive damages and $1 in compensatory damages against the three; the city has asked that the verdict be overturned.2
Video of Mr. Solivan's arrest here:
Ironically, it was the use of social media (especially Facebook) to spread videos of alleged police brutality that lead to three states (Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland) to pass statues to prevent videoing police officers, with twelve states having laws requiring all parties must give their consent (also overturned today). The Illinois law made illegal recording, a Class I felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison, and there were several prosecutions in Chicago used to target specific journalists who had a habit of recording police officers: The only people who seem prone to prosecution are those who embarrass or confront the police, or who somehow challenge the law. If true, then the prosecutions are a form of social control to discourage criticism of the police or simple dissent. 3 Case in point: Chicago's Christopher Drew.
Here is a video clip of ALCU volunteer in Georgia receiving a citation issued for excessive noise from his vehicle, the police officer then arrests him for videotaping the arrest:
- Carlos Miller's Photography is not a crime
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruling on a similar case: that a man wrongly arrested for recording cops could sue the arresting officers for violating his First Amendment rights.
- Reason TV's video feature showing mutiple police arrests for video recording with some interesting interviews. Highly recommended.
[1.] Huffington Post article by Radley Balko, published November 28th, 2012: “Supreme Court Inaction Boosts Right To Record Police Officers.”
[2.] New York Times article by Benjamin Weiser and Randy Leonard, published September 10, 2012: “Video of Police Encounter May Play Lead Role in Lawsuit.”
[3.] The Freeman article by Wendy MacElroy: “Are Cameras the New Guns?”