Courts Uphold Your Rights to Film, Tape Cops

Recording police officers when they're behaving illegally, a right protected under the First Amendment, is a fundamental element to maintaining a safe democracy. police acting in ways counter to their duty to protect the people should be held accountable, and modern technology makes it easier than ever to capture their actions as evidence. (Whether they'll be convicted of their crimes, however, is another matter.) Two recent court cases upheld and strengthened challenges to this concept lately, adding another layer of protection at the fundamental level of citizens-vs.-cops checks and balances. Washington Examiner:

Tiawanda Moore had made a sexual harassment complaint against a Chicago patrolman. When she was visited by police Internal Affairs officers who tried to persuade her to drop the charge, she recorded the audio using her Blackberry. Though the audio reflected rather poorly on the Internal Affairs officers, the response of the Chicago state's attorney was to act not against the offending officers, but against Ms. Moore, charging her with “wiretapping.”

After the tape was played, the jury took less than an hour to return a verdict of not guilty.  "When we heard that, everyone (on the jury) just shook their head," said one juror interviewed afterward.  "If what those two investigators were doing wasn't criminal, we felt it bordered on criminal, and she had the right to record it.”

Illinois law makes it illegal to record conversations with public officials without their permission.  If the officials are law enforcement officers, the penalty can be as much as 15 years in prison.  It’s hard to see what purpose such a law could serve, except to protect corrupt officials from exposure. 

A similar case occurred in Massachusetts, in which a Simon Gilk witnessed three police officers arresting a man and began to record them after he realized they were hurting their detainee. The cops arrested them and, again, tried to pull the "wiretap" law as a reason. A US Court of Appeals upheld Gilk's right to film the police, and opened up the officers to a lawsuit for their actions. So remember it next time you might, god forbid, have to film a cop committing a crime.

Read the full storyhere.

AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at September 5, 2011, 6:19am