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Philly Settles Lawsuits Over Recording Cops

Cellphones have become important tools for documenting and deterring police misconduct. (StockSnap/Pixabay)
Cellphones have become important tools for documenting and deterring police misconduct. (StockSnap/Pixabay)
December 6, 2017

PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia will pay $250,000 to settle two lawsuits brought by people who were restrained or arrested for recording police.

The cases were part of a series of five filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of people who faced retaliation for photographing or recording video of police as they worked.

According to Molly Tack-Hooper, a staff attorney with the ACLU, the settlement is an acknowledgement by the city of a ruling by a federal appeals court that there is a First Amendment right to record police in public.

"If we went to trial on our clients' claims against the city, there was a significant risk that the city would be found liable for failing to train its officers to respect that First Amendment right," she states.

Tack-Hooper adds that there has been a growing consensus among federal courts around the country that civilians have a right to record police as they perform their duties.

She says one of the plaintiffs in this case had been arrested for photographing police as they broke up a house party. The other was acting as a legal observer at an anti-fracking protest at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

"When she went to take photos of the police arresting a protester, she was violently restrained up against a pillar to prevent her from taking those photos," Tack-Hooper relates.

She notes that smartphones that can record video are now everywhere, and their role in recording police activity is both common and useful.

"Bystander videos of police interactions have played a hugely important role in our national conversation about policing,” she points out. “They've really supplemented reporting by the formal press about how police use their power and have brought about changes in policy."

Tack-Hooper says the mere presence of a cellphone has been shown to deter both police misconduct and the filing of false allegations of misconduct against police.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA