Christopher Montgomery was arrested by Philadelphia police two years ago for videotaping a fight in which police were involved. So the Philly chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the cops on his behalf.
Montgomery, 24, is a photojournalism student at Temple University, and in January 2011 he saw a fight break out in downtown Philadelphia. Police arrived and began making arrests.
At that point, Montgomery took out his iPhone and started recording the interaction. Police told him to stop, and then arrested him. But the ACLU claims that the police were the ones in the wrong.
The ACLU's lawsuit claims Philly police have shown a pattern of wrongfully arresting people who videotape public encounters with cops, according to CBS News. If proven, that could be a problem.
While state laws don't explicitly state that videotaping cops is legal, courts around the country have agreed that it's legal under the First Amendment.
More than one federal appeals court has determined that on-duty police officers don't have a right to privacy while on the job. That means it's not necessary to get consent before taping them while they're at work.
But individual Philadelphia police officers don't appear to have gotten the message, reports The Washington Post. Audio and videotapers have been arrested or cited by police in the past.
When police saw Montgomery taping the encounter, they immediately told him to stop and took his phone. He was detained for 45 minutes and then released with a citation.
His phone was returned, but the video had been erased.
At trial, Christopher Montgomery represented himself and lost. But with the help of an attorney, he easily won his appeal. His case illustrates how hard it is to win without an attorney, since the law was on his side.
Since Montgomery's case, the Philadelphia Police Department now seems to understand that legally, citizens can videotape on-duty officers. In September 2011, the police commissioner sent a memo instructing officers to let themselves be recorded.
But the ACLU alleges that even with that statement, individual officers have been violating people's rights by arresting them for videotaping.
The suit was filed Wednesday in federal court. It seeks damages as well as a confirmation that citizens have a right to videotape police.
- ACLU sues Philadelphia police for not letting journalism student record officers (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
- Citizens Can Record On-Duty Police Officers: 7th Cir. (FindLaw's Decided)
- How to Sue the Police (FindLaw's Injured)