Monthly archives: August 2011

August 30th, 2011

Are Republican Politicians More Camera Shy Than Democrats? 0

By Carlos Miller

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As we head into the insanity of the election season, we are bound to hear more stories of politicians banning cameras from town hall meetings out of fear they might stick their foot in their mouth and be exposed on Youtube for the fools that they are.

And lately, it seems as if it is the republicans doing all the banning.

I know many of my republican readers are already frothing at the mouth of that last statement, so bear with me for a second.

Last week, Republican Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot made national headlines when he had police confiscate cameras from two members of the audience.

And as you know, that took place only days before a federal appeals court ruled that photography is protected under the First Amendment.

So that prompted Politicususa, a liberal website, to come up with the following headline in an attempt to tie in the two stories.

Court Rules Republicans Who Confiscate Cameras At Town Halls Are Violating 1st Amendment.

The article didn’t mention any other republicans who have banned photography at town hall meetings, so I asked Photography is Not a Crime reader Mark Mason, who had posted the story on my wall, for some examples.

Mason, who lists his political affiliation on Facebook as “outside the box,” immediately provided a few links that indicate republican politicians do tend to be more camera shy than democrats.

Below is an unofficial list of politicians who have banned cameras at town hall meetings in recent years as well other incidents involving politicians directly assaulting photographers (both democrats).

Some of these stories involve staffers and there is no clear indication that the orders camera from the politician. I’ve included Chabot in the list below, even though I mentioned him above.

Also, I’ve provided a link on each name, but in some cases, you will find the same story on two politicans because it mentioned both of them.

And I’m sure there are more, so feel free to send me links regarding other politicians who have issues with photographers. I’m trying to create some type of scorecard.

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Republicans

Democrats

I am a liberal but I am non-partisan when it comes to these issues. I won’t support any candidate who bans photography at their town hall meetings or assaults photographers on the street.

I will be interviewed on this subject as well as photographers’ rights in general tomorrow morning (Wednesday) on an Ohio radio station.

I am scheduled to go on at 7:45 a.m. EST on 610 WTVN. You can listen live to the broadcast here or listen to it later on a podcast.

August 29th, 2011

Arizona Cop Caught On Citizen Video Tasering Mentally Ill Man 0

By Carlos Miller

Another citizen video emerged showing a police officer tasering a mentally-ill man who posed no threat to him.

But am I the only one who finds it disturbing that the videographer is not only hoping the man would get tased, but then sounds ecstatic when he actually does get tased?

I’m sure he was elated that he caught the cop in the act of tasing a mentally ill man; a sure hit for Youtube.

But I really have to stress it to these citizen journalists – the more you control your emotions, the less distracting you will be on video.

In other words, either keep your mouth shut or provide a simple narration of what is happening with some quick background of what took place before you started recording.

This is not a game. Save the cheering for the sports bar. Or at least until after it’s posted on Youtube.

The incident took place in Prescott, Arizona over the weekend and has already been covered by the local newspaper as well as the Fox News affiliate in Phoenix.

The mentally ill man was apparently asking for change and talking nonsense to customers walking out of the restaurant.

Cops were called and told him to hold his arms out, which he did. The cop told him to turn around, which he didn’t do.

The cop had no choice but to teach that mentally ill man a lesson in respecting his authority. He ended up tasing him twice.

Initially, police charged with his felony resisting arrest, which means he was being violent.

But the video proved that was not the case, so now he’s being charged with disorderly conduct, which we all know is code for contempt-of-cop.

August 26th, 2011

With Each Victory Comes Setbacks In Wiretapping War 0

By Carlos Miller

The battle for the right to record cops in public without fear of getting arrested on felony wiretapping charges has been grueling, but progressing steadfastly in favor of the citizen.

But there is still much work to do.

Just this week, a Chicago woman who was facing up to 15 years in prison for recording police officers was acquitted – a huge victory considering it took place in Illinois, which has the strictest wiretapping law in the country.

The law, however, still stands and two other men in that state are still facing prison time for recording public officials without their consent. The ACLU next month will begin oral arguments for its complaint that challenges the constitutionality of the law (above video).

And earlier today in Massachusetts – which has the second strictest law in the country – a court ruled that a group of police officers do not have “qualified immunity” after wrongly arresting a man for video recording them in public making an arrest.

That decision not only sets a precedent in Massachusetts, it also allows Simon Glik to procede with his lawsuit against the three officers.

Another wiretapping case

However, another Massachusetts man just learned that he is facing five years in prison for illegal wiretapping for apparently recording a cop over the summer.

Beau Davis is not too clear on the details because he only learned of the charge a few days ago after the court sent a letter to his parents in Florida.

Davis, who lives in Keene, New Hampshire, believes the alleged incident stems from his coverage of the wiretapping trial of his friends, Pete Eyre and Adam “Ademo Freeman” Mueller, who were recently acquitted.

This is how he explains it on the blog he launched to highlight his case.

A few days ago, my parents in FL received a letter in the mail from the Trial Court of Massachusetts District Court Department, stating that I needed to be present in court in Greenfield, MA, alleging that I unlawfully wiretapped a member of the Greenfield Police Department on May 20, 2011.  The charge is, as it is written in the letter, “WIRETAP, UNLAWFUL c272 §99(C)(1)”, which is a felony in Massachusetts.  The charge was filed on August 11, 2011.  It is August 21, 2011 and I am just now receiving the letter today from my parents.  The date of the arraignment is September 7, 2011.

Unless they have clear evidence that he was secretly recording police, they have no case. Either way, it’s still a message of intimidation.

But now Glik’s victory leaves these police departments open to get sued, which is good news for Eyre and, I’m willing to bet, Davis.

The Glik decision forbids cops from using the old “I didn’t know the law” routine, which works surprisingly well for them.

Wiretapping laws in the United States are broken down into one-party consent or two-party consent states, meaning that some states allow you to record somebody without their consent while others require you to get their consent.

But in most two-consent states, the law includes an expectation of privacy provision that makes it legal to record people, including police officers, in public.

Here is a state-by-state breakdown of the wiretapping laws compiled by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

And here are some cases that made national news in recent years.

  • In Maryland, police arrested Anthony Graber on wiretapping charges after he recorded a cop pulling a gun on him during a traffic stop. Graber, who was riding a motorcycle and wearing the camera on his helmet, was facing up to 16 years in prison before a judge finally threw out the case on the basis that police officers do not have an expectation of privacy as they perform their public duties.
  • In Florida, police arrested Tasha Ford on wiretapping charges for video recording cops who were hassling her son in a movie theater parking lot in 2009. Charges against her were quickly dropped and she is now suing.
  • In Oregon, police arrested a man on wiretapping charges in 2008 after he video recorded police arresting his friend, who is mentally disabled. Charges against him were dropped and he sued, winning a $19,000 settlement. But still, one Oregon police chief vowed to continue making these arrests, even after a city attorney sent out a memo stating these arrests are unlawful.
  • In Pennsylvania, police arrested an 18-year-old man on wiretapping charges who video recorded an officer from the passenger seat of his friend’s car during a traffic stop in 2007. Brian D. Kelly was facing seven years in prison before charges against him were dropped. But police in that state continue to threaten videographers with these charges.

The Massachusetts law

The Citizen Media Law Project, which is based in the Harvard Law School in Massachusetts, highlights a few interesting statements from the Glik decision.

  •   “[I]s there a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public?  Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative.”
  • “Glik filmed the defendant police officers in the Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States and the apotheosis of a public forum.  In such traditional public spaces, the rights of the state to limit the exercise of First Amendment activity are ‘sharply circumscribed.'”
  • “[A] citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”
  • “Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting ‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.'”   

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t change the fact that citizens in Massachusetts are still forbidden from secretly recording police in public, even if the officer does not have an expectation of privacy.

And as Radley Balko points out, that will always leave the citizen vulnerable to these charges, even if he is openly recording the cop:

First and foremost because I think the First Amendment protects the right to surreptitiously record on-duty cops. If you’re recording a cop beating the hell out of someone, it isn’t difficult to see why there might be some problems with a law that requires you to make it obvious to the cop that you’re doing so. Second, if the Massachusetts law is upheld, it’s going to create disputes about what constitutes plain sight, what is surreptitious, and whether a jury should believe the cop’s or the citizen’s account of where the camera was held while it was recording.

So now it’s up to the discretion of the judges and district attorneys in Massachusetts on how to proceed with these cases.

Less than two weeks ago, Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni refused to pursue wiretapping charges against a woman who was secretly recording a police beating from inside her home, which is yet another indication that court authorities in that state are getting weary of trying to prosecute these cases.

However, police in that state are not about to relinquish their ace-in-the-hole and will use it any opportunity they can, as they did this month to Robert E. Mansfield, who was arrested by Brockton police after he admitted to recording an argument he had with an officer during a traffic stop.

Mansfield is scheduled to attend a pretrial hearing on October 12. 

Let’s hope Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz has enough sense to see that police officers should not have an expectation of privacy during traffic stops.

The Illinois law

While the Massachusetts law allows citizens to openly record them, the Illinois law forbids citizens from recording on-duty cops without their consent, even if they don’t have an expectation of privacy.

This means that even if a citizen is openly recording a group of cops making an arrest in a public park, that person is subject to felony arrest if the cops are too busy beating the man to realize somebody is recording them.

That’s how Glik got arrested. But his charges were quickly tossed out.

The cops claimed they didn’t realize Glik had the right to record them, which is why they demanded quality immunity.

Illinois cops don’t need quality immunity because the law is on their side.

That’s why this week’s Tiawanda Moore victory was momentous.

The Chicago woman was facing several years in prison for secretly recording her conversations with internal affairs officers, even though they were recording the same conversation.

She was accusing a cop of sexually groping her and internal affairs was trying to talk her out of filing the report.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times:

“I wanted him to be fired,” Moore testified of the cop she alleges fondled her and gave her his phone number during a domestic battery call at the South Side residence she sometimes shares with her boyfriend.

Moore said she didn’t know about the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which prohibits the recording of private or public conversations without the consent of all parties. Even so, Moore’s attorney, Robert Johnson, said his client was protected under an exemption to the statute that allows such recordings if someone believes a crime is being committed or is about to be committed.

The Internal Affairs officers were “stalling, intimidating and bullying her,” Johnson said. The recording, which was played in court during the one-day trial, proved it, Johnson said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh told jurors, “The content of the tape is not the issue. The issue is that the words were taped.”

This was obviously a case of jury nulification because “stalling, intimidating and bullying” a citizen from filing a complaint is more of a job description than a crime for an internal affairs investigator.

As in the Glik case, the court decision does not affect the state law, which is unfortunate for Charles Drew and Michael Allison, two men who are also facing felony wiretapping charges because they recorded public officials.

Here is Allison’s story, told by Radley Balko:

This Robinson, Ill., man is facing four counts of violating the eavesdropping law for the recordings he made of police officers and a judge. Allison was suing the city to challenge a local zoning ordinance that prevented him from enjoying his hobby fixing up old cars: The municipal government was seizing his cars from his property and forcing him to pay to have them returned. Allison believed the local police were harassing him in retaliation for his lawsuit, so he began to record his conversations with them.

When Allison was eventually charged with violating the zoning ordinance, he asked for a court reporter to ensure there would be a record of his trial. He was told that misdemeanor charges didn’t entitle him to a court reporter. So Allison told court officials he’d be recording his trial with a digital recorder.

When Allison walked into the courtroom the day of his trial, the judge had him arrested for allegedly violating her right to privacy. Police then confiscated Allison’s digital recorder, where they also found the recordings he’d made of his conversations with cops.

Allison has no prior criminal record. If convicted, he faces up to 75 years in prison.

*****

The other case to challenge the wiretap law is that of Christopher Drew, an artist who was arrested in December 2009 for selling art without a permit on the streets of Chicago. Drew recorded his arrest, and now faces four to 15 years for documenting the incident.

The ACLU case

But a third case that might end up changing the absurd Illinois law involves the ACLU’s complaint that the statute was unconstitutional.

That case is pending appeal. Here is that complaint.

Last year, the ACLU sued to get the law changed to allow citizens to record police in public, but Federal District Court Judge Suzanne Conlon dismissed the case, claiming it had no Constitutional merit.

The ACLU intends to audio record police officers speaking with one another or police officers speaking with civilians. The ACLU’s program only implicates conversations with police officers. The ACLU does not intend to seek the consent of either police officers or civilians interacting with police officers. Police officers and civilians may be willing speakers with one another, but the ACLU does not allege this willingness of the speakers extends to the ACLU, an independent third party audio recording conversations without the consent of the participants. The ACLU has not met its burden of showing standing to assert a First Amendment right or injury….

So the ACLU appealed and they will present their oral arguments on September 13, according to Harvey Grossman, one of the lawyers named in the suit.

“Conlon’s decision was kind of unique,” he said in a quick phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Friday.

UPDATE: I just discovered a blog called Right to Record that provides exstensive analysis on both the Glik case and upcoming ACLU case.

August 25th, 2011

Canton Cop Threatens To Kill Citizen In Third Dash Cam Video 0

By Carlos Miller

Canton Police Officer Daniel Harless scored a hat trick Thursday when a third dash cam video emerged showing him threatening to kill a citizen during a traffic stop.

The threats begin at 4:40 in the above video where he eventually tells a citizen, “If you scratch you balls wrong, I’m going to pull my gun and I am going to shoot you.”

He has also been cleared in 18 internal affairs investigations since 2001, according to a NewsChannel5 investigation.

But Canton Police Chief Dean McKimm told the news station that “there was no evidence Harless was a problem.”

However, the three videos were enough evidence for internal affairs to determine he violated three department rules.

The rules Harless is accused of breaking include deportment, cooperation with the public and treatment of persons in custody.

But the real problem was not necessarily that he threatened to kill citizens who were of no threat to him.

The real problem was that these videos went viral, prompting people throughout the country – including many who saw the videos on PINAC – to call the Canton Police Department to voice their displeasure.

Here are some statements from the internal affairs report obtained by Canton Rep.

“Officer Harless’ conduct … has brought disrepute upon himself and the Canton Police Department,” concludes a report by the internal affairs division, which the Law Department released to The Repository on Wednesday following a public records request.

“The volatile attitude that Officer Harless displays (during the traffic top) … has gained negative national media attention towards these officers and the Canton Police Department,” the report adds.

“The Canton Police Department’s operation and efficiency has been impaired due to negative phone calls and emails that have been fielded by its members (regarding the case),” the report says.

Harless will face a hearing on September 7 that will determine his fate.

August 25th, 2011

Man Arrested At FEMA Checkpoint After Video Recording Federal Guard 0

By Carlos Miller

A conspiracy theorist who suspected that federal officers writing down license plate numbers in Colorado had something to do with the earthquake the previous day was arrested for refusing to provide identification.

It all started when Chris Geo, who runs the site Truth Frequency Radio, walked up to a guard shack leading to a FEMA warehouse with a video camera Wednesday.

The FEMA warehouse is next to a post officer where Geo had been told officers were writing down license plate numbers of people driving out of the parking lot.

Geo figured it had something to do with the earthquake that shook Colorado that measured 5.3 on the Richter scale.

But when Geo arrived, officers were not writing down license plate numbers.

Nevertheless, he approached the guard at the FEMA checkpoint and began asking questions.

The guard told him he was not allowed to video record the federal facility.

Geo refused to stop recording, so the guard called a Homeland Security officer who demanded identification.

Geo refused to provide it on the basis he was not committing a crime.

At 8:45 in the video, he asked if he was free to go. The officer said no and arrested him.

There is no federal law that requires citizens to provide identification when asked by a law enforcement officer.

And Colorado law states the following regarding the issue:

16-3-103.  Stopping of suspect. (1)  A peace officer may stop any person who he reasonably suspects is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime and may require him to give his name and address, identification if available, and an explanation of his actions. A peace officer shall not require any person who is stopped pursuant to this section to produce or divulge such person’s social security number. The stopping shall not constitute an arrest.

But all he was doing was video recording from outside the FEMA plant, which should not be enough to make the officer reasonably suspect he was committing a crime.

Geo was charged with “failure to comply with a federal officer.”

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