In this era more than ever, people are taking action to protect their Constitutional right to monitor police behavior by holding officers accountable through the court of law.
On Monday, four journalists brought a lawsuit against St. Louis County police to federal court on grounds that they were falsely arrested during the Ferguson protests.
The suit was filed on behalf of Ryan Devereaux of Intercept/First Look Media; Lukas Hermsmeier, a freelance journalist; Ansgar Graw, and Frank Herrmann, two U.S. correspondents from separate German news outlets. Devereaux discusses his arrest in the video below.
According the suit, which you can read here, Devereaux and Hermsmeier were on their way to a designated media area on the night of August 18 when they spotted protesters and decided to investigate. However, the crowd quickly dispersed after police thought it necessary to release tear gas into the area. Unable to return their car, the two were approached by police and questioned.
Even after identifying themselves as members of the press and providing credentials, the pair was shot with rubber bullets, handcuffed, detained for several hours and charged with refusal to disperse. The suit says that Devereaux has sustained a long-term injury to his right hand as a result of the incident.
On that same evening, Graw and Herman were also in that same area conducting research. The two were quickly arrested after attempting to interview an officer about the requirement to “keep moving” or face arrest. According to the suit, the two were handcuffed so tightly to “deliberately inflict pain on both journalists.” They were charged, held for several hours and denied water, the suit says.
While it remains to be seen how the courts will handle this particular case, one couple in Maine can rest easy after reaching a settlement in a lawsuit regarding First Amendment rights, which he wrote about last year.
According to a statement from the ACLU of Maine (who served as legal counsel for the couple), the plaintiffs, Jill Walker and Sabatino Scattoloni, were visiting Portland on May 25, 2014 when they observed an encounter between five police officers and one woman. After moving closer to record the incident, Portland Police Officer Benjamin Noyes ordered the pair to get on the sidewalk or face arrest. When the two inquired as to what they would be arrested for, the two were immediately handcuffed and brought into custody.
Walker and Scattoloni will $60,000 with each receiving $30,000 plus attorney fees, reported the Bangor Daily News.
According to the ACLU Press Release, Walker and Scattoloni were searched and interrogated without Miranda warnings and incarcerated until they could meet bail. They were charged with “Obstructing Government Administration” and obligated to hire a defense attorney. The district attorney ultimately dropped the charges.
“Police departments across Maine should take steps to train officers to respect the rights of members of the public to observe and record police activities,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine. “Police officers may not like being recorded, but personal recordings are an important check on potential abuses. The police get to carry guns, and the public gets to carry cell phones.”
The lawsuit filed by the couple charged that Officer Noyes violated Walker and Scattoloni’s First Amendment right to peacefully observe and record the police in public, as well as their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest.
“We decided to bring this case in order to help make it clear that you have the right to observe and record the police, as long as you aren’t interfering with their work,” said Walker. “We hope that nobody else will have to go through what we went through.”
As cases like this become more frequent in public discourse, it will hopefully encourage more citizens to examine, learn and fight to protect their rights l residents of this country. No one is above the law, not even the police.