Federal court: Videotaping police is OK

Finally, some good news around here. A federal court judge has ruled that three police officers violated the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights of a person who was videotaping them as they inspected trucks along a highway.

The plaintiff in this case, Allen Robinson, believed that the police were conducting the truck inspections in an unsafe manner and was videotaping their activities to present to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Even though Robinson was 30 feet away from the operation and not interfering at all, he was arrested twice on harassment charges, the last of which was thrown out on appeal.

The activities of the police, like those of other public officials, are subject to public scrutiny. . . . Videotaping is a legitimate means of gathering information for public dissemination and can often provide cogent evidence, as it did in this case. In sum, there can be no doubt that the free speech clause of the Constitution protected Robinson as he videotaped the defendants on October 23, 2002. . . . Moreover, to the extent that the troopers were restraining Robinson from making any future videotapes and from publicizing or publishing what he had filmed, the defendants’ conduct clearly amounted to an unlawful prior restraint upon his protected speech. . . . We find that defendants are liable under [42 USC] § 1983 for violating Robinson’s Fourth Amendment right to be protected from an unlawful seizure. — Judge Harvey Bartle III (PDF)

Robinson will receive $41,000 in compensatory and punitive damages under the ruling. No word yet on whether the police officers will appeal.

Score one for the good guys. (Via Boing Boing)

One thought on “Federal court: Videotaping police is OK

  • December 23, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    Situations like this is exactly why I’m voting for Ron Paul.

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