Suit: Cops unlawfully arrested Temple student for photographing them

Posted: July 25, 2014

THE AMERICAN Civil Liberties Union and others yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against the city and two cops on behalf of a Temple University student who they say was unlawfully arrested last year when he photographed a group of cops gathered outside a North Philly house.

The complaint follows previous cases in which cops allegedly assaulted or arrested other civilians who tried to film police actions in public and a September 2011 memorandum by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey that instructed officers to allow themselves to be recorded.

"Observing police officers' behavior in public is activity protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," the lawsuit filed yesterday begins.

"It is not a crime. Nevertheless . . . Philadelphia police officers, due to serious deficits in training, supervision, and discipline, have routinely punished civilians who observe or record police activity by filing false criminal charges against them."

The suit centers on plaintiff Richard Fields, a Temple undergrad, who was walking on 18th Street near Berks about 11 p.m. Sept. 13 when he saw about 20 cops across the street.

The lawsuit alleges the following account:

Some cops were leading people out of a house, where there appeared to have been a party. Fields took a photo with his iPhone. Officer Joseph Sisca approached him, asked, "Do you like taking pictures of grown men?" and ordered him to leave. The student said he was on public property and was not interfering with the investigation.

Sisca again ordered him to leave and bumped Fields with his chest. Fields still refused to leave. The cop then handcuffed Fields and took his property, including his iPhone, which Sisca threw onto a concrete stoop, cracking the phone's screen.

The cop then put Fields in a police van and detained him for about 20 to 30 minutes. Afterward, the cop handed Fields a summary offense, alleging he had obstructed the highway.

The suit also contends that Sisca and another unknown officer searched the phone, trying to find photos or recordings of the cops.

At an Oct. 31 Municipal Court summary trial, prosecutors withdrew the charge against Fields.

Assistant City Solicitor John Coyle did not return a voice message left yesterday by the Daily News.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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