"Certainly the right to observe police officers and their interaction with the public is at the core of what the First Amendment is supposed to protect," ACLU attorney Molly Tack-Hooper said, adding that the latest cases are not isolated. "The Philadelphia Police Department has arrested numerous people for filming. These are unconstitutional arrests."
Police spokesman Lt. John Stanford declined to comment on the pending litigation, but he stressed that Philadelphians have a right to record, so long as it does not interfere with a police officer's work or place the individual in harm's way. After the Daily News highlighted the issue in 2011, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey issued a memo to the department stating that civilians have a right to record, photograph and videotape. But the ACLU said that the memo is not enough, that more training is needed and that cops who violate the law should be disciplined.
In one of the lawsuits, police arrested Coulter Loeb, at the time a senior at the University of Cincinnati. Loeb was photographing a cop escorting a transient woman out of Rittenhouse Square in July 2011. The cop ordered Loeb to stop taking photos and to walk away, the suit states. Loeb stopped photographing but refused to leave, and he was arrested. Charges of disorderly conduct were later dropped.
The other suit involves Alexine Fleck, who was observing an officer's interaction with a semiconscious man sitting on a stoop in West Philly in June 2011. She was asked to leave the area after inquiring about the situation, the suit states. When she did not, she was arrested and charged with failure to disperse. That charge was also dismissed.
On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom