As President Bush threatens to veto a bill that would make it harder for the government to spy on its citizens, police are increasingly using felony wiretapping charges to crack down on citizens who videotape them against their wishes.
Welcome to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Here are just a few examples:
- Simon Glik of Boston was arrested in October on felony charges of illegal wiretapping, disturbing the peace and – aiding a prisoner escape – after he used his cell phone to videotape police arresting a drug suspect. Glik, who was born in Moscow, must have felt as if he were back in Russia.
- Brian Kelly of Pennsylvania was arrested in May on felony charges of illegal wiretapping after filming an officer during a traffic stop from the passenger’s seat. The irony is that a camera in the officer’s vehicle was recording the traffic stop as Kelly was recording the officer. Kelly, who was 18 at the time, spent 26 hours in jail and was threatened with ten years imprisonment.
- Michael Gannon of New Hampshire was arrested on two felony counts of illegal wiretapping in 2006 after his home surveillance camera filmed a police detective barging into his home – after specifically being told he was not invited. The detective was investigating Gannon’s son for a mugging. Gannon was so perturbed by the detective’s actions, that he took the videotape to the police department to lodge a complaint. Police ended up arresting him instead. He spent several hours in jail, paid a $10,000 bond and had thousands of dollars worth of his equipment seized.
Last week, a Boston judge threw Glik’s case out, specifically stating that it was his First Amendment right to videotape police, according to the Boston Herald.
Judge Mark H. Summerville ruled Thursday that even though officers “were unhappy” Simon Glik, 31, of Lynn was rolling video on them on Oct. 1, “Photography is a form of expression which is entitled to First Amendment protection just as the written or spoken word is protected.”
Kelly’s case was dropped a month after his arrest, even prompting Pennsylvania district attorney David Reed to send out a message to all police agencies in the state informing them that citizens have the right to film them, if they are filming citizens.
Unlike Judge Summerville, Reed did not go as far as to specify that citizens have a First Amendment right to videotape police, regardless if they are being filmed or not. The good citizens of Pennsylvania, where the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1787, will have to fight that battle when it arises.
“When police are audio- and video-recording traffic stops with notice to the subjects, similar actions by citizens, even if done in secret, will not result in criminal charges.
And Gannon’s case was also dropped, even prompting state legislators to introduce a bill that would allow residents to film people on their own property, with or without their consent. How’s that for a groundbreaking concept?The need to allow citizens to photograph, videotape and record police is essential if we are going to maintain a democracy that is “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Especially at a time when citizens are constantly being monitored by the government.
Law enforcement has gotten so confident about videotaping citizens, that they have even resorted to videotaping themselves committing human rights violations, as they did in the case of Hope Steffey of Ohio.
In another story, five Tennessee sheriff deputies were sent to prison after they were recorded beating and torturing a drug dealer.Had the incident never been recorded, the crime would have gone unenforced because nobody would have believed a convicted a drug dealer over five law enforcement officers.
The fact that it went barely reported in the mainstream media outside of Tennessee is a disgrace to what used to be the Fourth Estate.
Here are the details:On July 8th, 2004, five Campbell County sheriff deputies entered the home of Lester Eugene Siler because he was being accused of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. The deputies ordered his wife and son to leave the house. Then they proceeded to threaten, beat and torture Siler.
At one point, they applied electricity to his genitalia.
But unknowing to the deputies, Siler’s wife started recording the deputies with a tape recorder before she left the house. Deputies Gerald David Webber, Samuel R. Franklin, Joshua Monday, Shayne Green and William Carroll were eventually convicted and sent to prison.
Siler and his wife were arrested on drug charges a year later. That still doesn’t justify violating his human rights.
Some cops are so arrogant about being observed, that they have arrested people for simply watching and taking notes of their actions without even filming or recording them.
In September, Mississippi police arrested an ACLU field worker who had asked for the badge numbers of police officers after they had made an arrest in the parking lot of a grocery store.
During the arrest, Brent Cox pulled out a notepad and started taking notes. The police ordered him away, making him stand so far that he couldn’t see what was going on. Meanwhile, other shoppers who were closer to the incident – and who were not taking notes – were not told anything.
When he asked for their badge numbers, they refused. One female officer even covered her badge with her hand. Cox, who has been trained to observe police without interfering, was charged with “interfering with a police investigation”.
Cox spent 14 hours in jail and has yet to go to trial.
And neither have I, even though it will soon be a year since my arrest for photographing Miami police against their wishes.
It makes me wonder if the Miami-Dade court system is deliberately avoiding scheduling my case because they know it would be impossible to find a jury who would not see through the lies of the arresting officers. If so, then they should just drop the case.
And let me continue my Constitutional Right of policing the police.