ACLU Files First of Several Lawsuits Against Philadelphia PD for Arresting Citizens with Cameras

As we’ve seen in cases throughout the United States, the Philadelphia Police Department’s guidelines to officers stating that citizens have the right to record went pretty much ignored, leaving the ACLU no choice but to sue them.

And considering Philly cops have committed so many violations against citizens who record them, the ACLU has enough plaintiffs to file a series of lawsuits, which is exactly what they plan to do.

The first lawsuit, filed Wednesday, involves a photojournalism student named Christopher Montgomery who was arrested and had video footage deleted from his iPhone in January 2011 after he video recorded cops making an arrest.

Montgomery was charged with disorderly conduct, which is the usual catch-all charge police use when they can’t find an actual law that was broken.

And he was convicted, which shows just how broken the system can be.

But he appealed and had the conviction reversed, which opened up the avenues to allow him to sue for First Amendment retaliation, malicious prosecution, illegal search and seizure and false arrest.

Although the lawsuit does not list the spoliation of evidence as a cause of action, they plan to make that an issue as the suit progresses.

“Spoliation of evidence is not a claim for damage but it will certainly come up as we litigate,” said ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.

Roper said they are putting the finishing touches on two more lawsuits, which they expect to file in the next few days. And they have several more lawsuits planned following those.

At least two of those incidents took place after September 2011 when the department issued new guidelines to its officers, stating that citizens have the right to record.

In this week’s lawsuit, the ACLU detailed several other incidents, giving us a taste of what to expect in the future lawsuits.

Check out the guide compiled by the ACLU on your legal rights to record in public.


About Carlos Miller

Carlos Miller is founder and publisher of Photography is Not a Crime, which began as a one-man blog in 2007 to document his trial after he was arrested for photographing police during a journalistic assignment. He is also the author of The Citizen Journalist's Photography Handbook, which can be purchased through Amazon.

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  • FritzMuffknuckle

    From the transcript of his original trial:

    “I mean, how (are) police officers going to do their jobs if they are afraid to do anything because someone is out there with a camera?” the judge told Montgomery.

    • Difdi

      If they have nothing to hide, what are they worried about?

    • steveo

      This judge probably never saw the Jason Bourne movies. The speed at which the govt can find out everything about someone from birth to present is just astonishing. Are Leos supposed to be left out from this?

  • $28125078

    FINALLY! I have Upper Darby Police (bordering W. Philly) on film admitting to an unlawful Terry Stop, and threatening my job all because I wouldn’t identify myself outside of my house riding my bike at night on the street in front of my house.

    • Lefim

      Well, don’t bogart tha cinematography, bro! Share! (kidding)

  • rick

    The guide from ACLU Pennsylvania has a different view than what is stated time and again in PINAC about seizure and viewing of pictures and videos. Generally that the matter is unsettled in regards to needing a warrant.

  • Virtualfrog

    AAahhh Brotherly Love… The problem is that it is the brothers that they love to harass. Having lived just outside Philly and workedin the city I, and everyone else, knows the routine that is used by the cops.The Italian area the cops were/are crooked and just bothered the small fry. They didn’t dare bother the well connected mafia. In the black area they were/are crooked and love to bust heads and steal their drugs to sell later. In the rest of the city they just played it safe and were crooked although they did not bother the white people much. Just about like any other place but a city is much more profitable for them personally.

  • bzflagkilljoy

    Further insult, the judge is currently nominated up a level by the governor and awaiting confirmation.

    • Guest

      If he is still up for confirmation, perhaps Pensylvania readers can write their state senat representatives…

      • Cville

        I live in PA and just sent off a letter to my state senator. I could not, however, find any info as to whether a confirmation vote has already been held or not.

  • ExCop-Lawyer

    If I were the City, I would skip the trial and enter into a consent decree. The compliant is much stronger than most, and the pattern and practice of violating rights is too well documented.

    • Difdi

      And not just first amendment rights either.

      Philadelphia has this odd hypocrisy about gun control as well. The same statute (not title or chapter, the specific STATUTE) that allows Philadelphia police to carry guns on duty is the statute that allows anyone with a permit to carry a pistol in the city. And yet, it is the official position of the police department that any law that grants a citizen the right to be armed in their city must be invalid, so they ignore it.

      I’m not surprised that they apply the same reasoning to photography. The police do it all the time, but they ignore the laws saying that non-police can too.

      • ExCop-Lawyer

        Yeah, I’ve seen several videos on Youtube about the Philly police over-reacting over guns, especially open carry. I don’t think the department has a good system for training nor for supervision.

        I wouldn’t be surprised to find other constitutional violations are common, besides the First and Second Amendment issues you and I have mentioned.

        • Gottaluvit

          I think they have a great system of training – they all come out crooked… maybe they just need a change of curriculum lol

          • ExCop-Lawyer

            That’s about as intelligent as saying anyone that criticizes cops must be a crook.

  • steveo

    Has anyone seen Enemy of the State, that was in 1998, 13 years ago. Skip forward to Person of Interest where the guy has designed a computer system that survielles everyone, all the time and can predict through certain algorithms whether something bad is going to happen. I can’t understand how in this Brave New World of constant video, voice, cell phone and gps tracking that Leo gets a little ticked off with a citizen journalist with a smartphone pointed at the leo. What’s up with that? Leos, get a life, probably someone is always recording you, get used to it.

  • Zee-L Usay

    Why are the cops not charged with the ubiquitous “tampering with evidence” everyone else gets when they try to hide their weed? If the cops video me doing something I get to delete it right?

    • ExCop-Lawyer

      They have been, dependent on the jurisdiction. There were two or three in Dallas that were charged with it in the last couple of years, IIRC. It dealt with dashcam video.

  • Archie1954

    When these suits are won, it isn’t enough for the city to have to pay the compensation to the victims. It is necessary for the individual police officers to have to pay from their own pockets, otherwise the mistreatment of the public will never end.

    • ExCop-Lawyer

      That’s not going to happen. Most states have laws protecting public employees from such judgments, and the city will have to pay.

  • Raymonde Verne

    Thank you for continual coverage of this topic. On a more general note I would like to share a few observations about photographers in general.

    I have found that by carrying a SLR style digital camera with a zoom lens always attracts attention, most positive but some negative. But even the positive (“Ohhhh, what kind of camera is that?” said in a gushing kind of tone) seems to imply certain things: ‘You spent a lot for that didn’t you?’ Yes, I did, And you spent a lot on that car of yours parked right over there didn’t you? I spent a little less on my car, on my apartment, on my wardrobe, on a whole lot of things so I could get the best camera going, OK? We all make choices; goodness sakes, this is just a camera we’re talking about here.
    “Did you get any good pictures today?” This as I’m roaming about state and national parks. Yes, but then all of my shots are of Pulitzer Prize winning quality. I don’t push the shutter release unless it is. LOL.

    Seriously, the attack by Security guards, it seems to me at least, is part of a lager phenomena in our society about serious photographers who are seen as something of a threat by almost everybody.