A New York woman has sued the city, the police department and several individual officers over a 2013 arrest for recording police activity.
A lawsuit, filed in federal court Monday on behalf of Debra Goodman, claims her rights were violated due to a departmental “policy, practice and custom of interfering with the right of individuals to film, photograph, videotape, or record…NYPD members performing their official duties in public places.”
Goodman was arrested Sept. 25, 2013, for attempting to record officers from a sidewalk. The lawsuit states that an officer walked up to her while she was recording, and pulled out his own camera to record her. She was cuffed after a verbal exchange and telling the officer she’d done nothing wrong when he asked for her identification.
After several trips to court, Goodman’s charges were eventually dismissed May 27.
The suit is claiming damage for violations of Goodman’s First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, assault, battery, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution and violation of the state constitution. Goodman is also demanding a jury trial, a permanent injunction preventing the government from prosecuting her or others who record police officers and monetary damages from the original case, this lawsuit and any “further relief as the court shall deem just and proper.”
One of the many similar cases listed in the lawsuit was one (of several) involving PINAC reader Shawn Randall Thomas.
Thomas has been photographic police in New York for the past 10 years. In that time, he’s been arrest six times: four times by NYPD, once by the FBI and once by the Department of Homeland Security. He said he’s been approached and detained on several other occasions. However, no arrest involving his photography has ever netted a conviction.
Thomas’ most recent arrest (the one referred to in the lawsuit) was this past February, after he was assaulted by Officer Efrain Rojas for recording someone being detained in a subway station. He is currently facing charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, tresspassing and obstruction of government. Because of the minor severity of the charges, Thomas said he is not entitled to a trial by jury.
“I’m satisfied that Norman Siegel, the former head of New York’s chapter of the ACLU, recognized the violations that occurred in my case,” he said, referring to Goodman’s suit. “I’m happy to be able to contribute something to the issue of Police Accountability.”
“I believe the complaint file on behalf of Ms. Goodman is necessary and will establish what the Supreme Court has already settled; the right of the people to record public officials.”
Thomas said he doesn’t think the suit will have any bearing on his case because “the Kings County District Attorney’s Office appears to operate within a vacuum.”
Thomas said, regardless of the outcome of his criminal case, he intends to bring his own federal lawsuit “against New York City, its police department, and several police officers for not only this current arrest involving Officer Rojas, but for two previous arrest[s] in which I was falsely arrested because of my photography.”
Despite the arrests and harrassment, Thomas said he encourages everyone to record police activity.
“The worst that can happen is that they’ll end up with worthless recordings, which in the digital age will not cost them anything,” he said. “Unless of course, the cop happens to be a person of little or no integrity, in which case the photographer could end up being a victim of a crime by police.”
When asked if he had anything else to add, Thomas said, “I’d like for people to support PINAC, it’s best to have it and never need it than to need it and not have it.”