Police in Maryland arrested a man for recording them during a traffic stop even though a judge in that state determined a few years ago that police do not have an expectation of privacy in public.
As we’ve seen so many times before, the Montgomery County police officer whose last name is Johnson wasn’t interested in hearing about the actual law once he announced that recording police in public was illegal.
The man video recording is Jared Parr, who uploaded the video to Youtube on February 16, so we can assume the incident took place a few days earlier even though he doesn’t specify.
Parr said he was charged with obstruction, even though it took cops an hour to come up with that charge, most likely after they realized that the wiretapping law would no longer apply.
Parr said he started video recording cops pulling people over for making illegal right turns from inside his car, which drew the attention of the officers. He said he was arrested a few months earlier for warning drivers about the police operation.
It’s best to fast forward the video to 1:00 because the first minute is pretty much wasted space.
The cop starts off by asking Parr where he lives, which Parr refuses to answer. Then Johnson begins focusing on the fact that Parr is recording.
Johnson: “I’m asking you a question right now because I believe you’re videotaping, I believe you’re audio recording.”
Parr: “I am.”
Johnson: “Ok, you’re not allowed to do that. That’s against the law to audio record without my permission.”
Parr: “You mean the wiretap statute?”
Johnson: “Yes …. Step out of the vehicle.”
Parr: “Am I being detained?”
Johnson: “You’re being detained right now because you’re audio recording and you’re not supposed to.”
In 2010, Maryland made national news when police arrested a man named Anthony Graber on felony wiretapping charges for uploading a video of an undercover cop pulling a gun on him during a traffic stop.
Graber was facing 16 years in prison before Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr. dismissed the case six months later, stating the following:
“Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public,” the judge wrote. “When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation.”
So that should have resolved any debate about the interpretation of the Maryland wiretapping law, but obviously Montgomery County police officer Johnson chose to embarrass himself on Youtube for his lack of knowledge.
But at least he didn’t delete the footage.
UPDATE: Initially, I had written that the officer was a Rockville police officer, but I since received the following an email from a Rockville city council member.
Greetings! My name is Tom Moore. I am a member of the Rockville City Council and a former journalist who believes fervently that photography is not a crime. I read with great interest (and significant anger) your story on the man arrested by a Maryland police officer in apparent violation of his right to record the public activities of a police officer. I take such situations extremely seriously.
When your story was brought to my attention tonight, I made immediate inquiries, and can report to you that though the incident may have taken place in the Rockville area, or may have even taken place within the City of Rockville, there is no “Rockville police officer whose last name is Johnson.” It just wasn’t our guy. I will note that Mr. Parr identifies the officer involved as “Johnson of the Montgomery County Police” at the 2:14 mark. MCPD is an entirely separate department.
If you could clarify in your story that the officers involved were not Rockville City Police Department officers, and remove the picture of my police chief, Terry Treschuk, from your story, I would greatly appreciate it.
I am as appalled as you are that this incident took place. If blame is to be assigned — and it certainly looks like it should be — I would greatly prefer that it be assigned correctly. We have received a small number of rightly concerned e-mails from your readers tonight; I don’t want their concern to be misplaced.
City of Rockville