Shooting Video Of Police Again Stirs Controversy
A federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a man who was arrested for taking video of New Haven police officers has reopened a long-running debate in Connecticut about the rights of citizens to take moving or still pictures of law enforcement personnel in action.
Luis Luna was arrested on September 25, 2010 for using his smartphone to shoot video of police officers as they broke up a fight at the corner of Crown and College streets. Although the charges of interfering with the officers were eventually dropped, Luna's lawsuit claims his rights were violated by the unlawful seizure of his iPhone.
Luna eventually got the phone back, but the video had been deleted.
"I don't think there's any doubt, the law is clear that individuals have a right to take photographs of public interest, whether its police making an arrest or speaking at a press conference," said New Haven criminal defense lawyer Diane Polan, who filed the lawsuit against the city. She is seeking $500,000 in punative and compensatory damages for her client.
Polan listed claims for several civil rights violations, including Luna's wrongful arrest. "The mere act of an individual recording police officers while performing their duties is not prohibited by federal or state statute," Polan said. "An officer is required to clearly articulate why an individual was arrested for filming."
This is at least the second run-in between Connecticut police officers and people with cameras to result in legal action. In 2009, New Haven priest James Manship was arrested for using a video camera to record East Haven police as they allegedly harassed Latino shopkeepers. Manship filed a federal lawsuit in that case, which remains pending.
In response to that incident, some Connecticut lawmakers proposed legislation that would prevent police from interfering with camera-toting citizens. Earlier this year, state Senator Martin Looney, D-New Haven, tried for the third time to get a bill passed which would provide a specific cause of action for those prevented from taking pictures of police. In short, the measure would give individuals the ability to sue police officers who interfere with their ability to videotape or photograph officers on the job.
The legislation was approved the state Senate in 2011, 2012 and 2013, but no vote has ever been taken in the House. Looney, the state Senate majority leader and a criminal defense lawyer, said the measure would be a way to protect what he calls an important right of citizens "to know what police are doing."
During legislative discussions about the bill, lawmakers drafted language to provide exemptions. For instance, if a person is interfering with the work of police while taking video or still pictures, and the police intervene, then a lawsuit can't be pursued. "We obviously recognize that no one has a right to interfere with the duties of the police," Looney said.
He said if he senses there is enough support for a bill, he will introduce it for a fourth time. "I think the public needs to be comfortable with the understanding that they can operate without risk of arrest when observing the police in the performance of their duties," Looney said.