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How to Build a Case From a Viral Video of Police Misconduct

When a video goes viral, it's usually because the video depicts something so shocking, or funny, or amazing, that anyone who views it is compelled to share it. Sadly, too often, viral videos are born from the misconduct of public officials.

Recently, the woman who was the subject of a viral video which depicted her being punched in the face by a NYC police officer has filed an excessive force lawsuit against the department and officers involved. The video depicts the plaintiff, on the ground, struggling with the officer, when the pair roll over, and with the officer above her, he punches her two or three times (looks like at least two of the three punches landed).

Le Video Loquitur

When a client comes to you with a YouTube link that has many thousand views, and clearly depicts them as the victim of a crime or other act giving rise to liability, you'd be wise to do some deep Googling of that client. Viral fame is more than just a game to some people, and you don't want to be led down a primrose path of bad publicity, or worse, a bar complaint.

But if a video speaks for itself, and the circumstances surrounding the video are reasonable or believable (i.e. your client was not vying for MTV Jackass type viral fame), you may want to start researching.

Things you'll want to know:

  • Who took the video
  • When/where the video was taken
  • The name and contact info for anyone who appeared in the video
  • If other video of the incident exists

Lastly, it is also very important to make a copy of the viral video as leaving it stored on a website you don't control means it could vanish at any moment, and may be difficult to recover.

Authentication

When you have a case that is built upon a viral video, it will be critical that the video is admissible, which will probably require some level of authentication. Fortunately, if your client is seen on the video, they may be able to provide the basis if the camera-person cannot be tracked down. Review your rules of evidence.

While a video may naturally seem to qualify under the best evidence rule, there are exceptions when a video may not be admissible. Also, you may not want to simply assume that the person who posted the video is the same person who took the video. Viral videos are openly and notoriously stolen, copied, and/or reposted, and frequently are used for television and local news stations, which you may or may not want to talk to ... but that's a different topic entirely.

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