by Jack Burns, Activist Post:
There’s been an ongoing battle between police and the citizenry over who has the right to film in public. Disputes between police and the public have led to cameras being confiscated by police, and citizens being manhandled, beaten, and arrested. Now, it seems, the courts are weighing in, and not on the side of police.
The court’s opinion comes from a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Phillip Turner vs. Driver, Grinald, and Dyess (2017). The plaintiffs are all officers from Ft. Worth, Texas. According to court documents, “Plaintiff-Appellant Phillip Turner was video recording a Fort Worth police station from a public sidewalk across the street when Defendants-Appellees Officers Grinalds and Dyess approached him and asked him for identification. Turner refused to identify himself, and the officers ultimately handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a patrol car.”
Prior to this case, there was no clear precedent that specifically established filming the police as a First Amendment right. In fact, as we’ve reported before, U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a ruling last year stating that citizens do not have a First Amendment right to record the police in public.
According to the recent precedent:
At the time in question, neither the Supreme Court nor this court had determined whether First Amendment protection extends to the recording or filming of police. Although Turner insists, as some district courts in this circuit have concluded, that First Amendment protection extends to the video recording of police activity in light of general First Amendment principles, the Supreme Court has “repeatedly” instructed courts “not to define clearly established law at a high level of generality”: “The general proposition, for example, that an unreasonable search or seizure violates the Fourth Amendment is of little help in determining whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly established.” Thus, Turner’s reliance on decisions that “clarified that [First Amendment] protections . . . extend to gathering information” does not demonstrate whether the specific act at issue here—video recording the police or a police station—was clearly established.
The court went on to note that police nor Turner had a precedent to reference in which filming cops was specifically protected as a First Amendment right.
In light of the absence of controlling authority and the dearth of even persuasive authority, there was no clearly established First Amendment right to record the police at the time of Turner’s activities.
Now there is.
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