Wednesday, March 1, 2017
For The First Time, Federal Court Explicitly Establishes Filming Police As A Right
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.”
In the recent ruling, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in on the citizens’ rights to film police movement, activities and buildings. The court determined,
“We conclude that First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.” The court set the first ever precendent giving citizens the right to film police, within reason, of course. In other words, the court believes the public has a right to film police so long as it is within reason, in public, and not in private. Going further, the court seemed to empathize with the public’s demand for a transparent government. They wrote, “speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.”