ACLU sues over arrest of man jailed for video-recording police

Posted: July 26, 2014

A 2011 memo from Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey hasn't stopped Philadelphia police officers from intimidating and arresting people who try to record them, the ACLU says.

So the organization is hoping a little dose of public shaming will.

It launched a social-media campaign Thursday urging city residents to tweet their stories of police harassment for recording law enforcement activity with the hashtag #PACopWatch.

The group's efforts coincided with the filing of the organization's fourth federal lawsuit on behalf of a city resident arrested on what it described as questionable grounds.

The latest case, according to court filings, involves a Temple University junior charged in September with a summary offense for photographing about 20 officers trying to break up a party. Rick Fields snapped photos of the scene on the 1900 block of North 18th Street and quickly drew the ire of officers, according to his lawsuit.

An officer ordered Fields to leave. When he refused, he was handcuffed, searched, and held for nearly a half-hour in a police van, the suit says. Once released, the officer wrote him a citation for "standing in the area of a police invest[igation] videotapping w phone." Fields' phone was returned with indications that it had been searched for photographs, his lawyers said in court filings.

All charges against Fields were later dismissed.

Two years before Fields' arrest, Ramsey issued a memo reminding officers that they could be recorded doing their jobs. Reggie Shulford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said that policy has been ignored.

Calling the continued arrests a "failure of police leadership," Shulford said, "Rank-and-file officers clearly have not gotten the message that arresting innocent people simply for photographing or recording police is unconstitutional and unacceptable."

City officials and the Police Department declined to comment on the case or general policies regarding the taping of police, citing the ongoing litigation.

Fields' suit comes nearly two years after the ACLU filed its first challenge to the recording of arrests on behalf of another Temple student, who was locked in a jail cell and later charged with disorderly conduct for taping officers responding to a fight. That suit remains in litigation.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649 @jeremyrroebuck

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