Right to Film Cops in Dispute in Philly Federal Case

According to the Philly Voicethe Pennsylvania ACLU is planning to appeal a decision made last month by a federal court stating that a citizen has no First Amendment right to record police activity without a specific, critical reason for doing so.

In the Feb. 19 decision, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in the case of Fields vs. City of Philadelphia that absent "any state purpose of being critical of the government," your freedom of speech is not applicable when recording the activities of police officers.

As the Philly Voice explained after the ruling, the case was brought by two young plaintiffs, Richard Fields and Amanda Geraci. In 2013, Fields, an undergraduate at Temple University, was recording some 20 police officers outside a house party on campus. Fields refused to leave when asked by officers, who then detained and handcuffed him, taking away his cell phone and putting him in a police van.

His reason for filming was that he "just thought that would make a great picture." Geraci, an activist legal observer, was filming a protest in Philly a year earlier. When she moved toward an officer arresting a protester, she said she was physically restrained by another cop and prevented from recording the arrest. Fields and Geraci both sued the city, claiming they faced retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights.

The Pennsylvania ACLU is calling it the "Copwatch Case." Their executive director Reggie Shuford said: "The freedom to monitor the police without fearing arrest or retaliation is one of the ways we distinguish a free society from a police state. Every court that has addressed this issue has ruled that the right to record the police performing their duties in public is at the core of what the First Amendment protects." He called Judge Mark Kearney's ruling "an outlier," adding that "we intend to appeal it." 

(Photo Courtesy of Activist Post

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