As the Maryland wiretapping law comes under national scrutiny in the weeks leading up to Anthony Graber’s trial, one Maryland prosecutor has the common sense to interpret the law as it was intended.
St. Mary’s County State Attorney Richard Fritz said he will not prosecute Yvonne Nicole Shaw for videotaping a deputy, even though she was arrested on the same wiretapping charge as Graber.
Meanwhile, Harford County State Attorney Joseph Cassilly is fully proceeding with his case against Graber, which could send him to prison for 16 years, according to a Washington Post article (in which I was interviewed) and follow-up editorial.
Obviously, both prosecutors who happen to be republicans have entirely different interpretations of the wiretapping law.
But Maryland’s wiretapping law in pretty clear-cut. The affected party must have had an expectation of privacy.
“Oral communication” means any conversation or words spoken to or by any person in private conversation.
In Graber’s case, Maryland State Trooper Joseph Uhler hopped out of an unmarked car on Interstate 95 in broad daylight and began yelling at him to “get off the bike, get off the bike.” Anybody within earshot would have heard these orders.
Also, Graber was wearing the camera sticking out of his helmet, which Uhler noticed, according to his report. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to him that he was being videotaped.
Furthermore, Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran issued an opinion in 2000 that specifically stated that police officers who happen to record citizens during traffic stops with their dash cams were not in violation of the state wiretapping law.
So how come citizens are not afforded that same protection?
According to Fritz, citizens should have the right to videotape police officers in public, which is one of the reasons he is not pursuing the case against Shaw.
Fritz said Tuesday that Handy had probable cause to make the arrest, but that a review of the case showed that Shaw did not know of the state law against voice recording without consent, and that the police officers’ conversations in a public place is not protected by the statute.
“There’s also a public policy issue here,” Fritz said, adding that although there was no indication of misconduct by Handy, the public’s recording of law officers’ conduct is helpful to police agencies.
The St. Mary’s County incident might also lead to further training for deputies in how to deal with similar situations.
And they obviously need it considering that the arresting deputy, Patrick Handy, barged into a private home to arrest Shaw after he had already confiscated her cell phone camera.
Shaw was at the Colony Square neighborhood shortly after midnight on the Saturday morning of June 12, when Handy and other officers responded there on what he described in court papers as a noise complaint.
Shaw said about a dozen teenagers left the area as police arrived, and that she got out her cell phone because of the way Handy was talking to her friend, who lives in the community.
“He was being very aggressive, and I decided to record it,” she said, adding that another officer pointed her out to Handy before he grabbed her phone. She said she went back into her friend’s home.
“I went inside to call dispatch[ers at the sheriff's office] to see if he could take my phone, and he came in the house,” she said. “He put handcuffs on me in front of all the kids.”
Handy is now under investigation by internal affairs, which means nothing will happen to him.