Did Philadelphia police get the memo?
Almost three years ago, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey issued a memorandum saying that officers should not stop the public from photographing or videotaping them on the job. However, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil-rights attorneys claim in a new lawsuit that an officer did just that last year, and it wasn’t the only time.
In September 2013, Temple University student Richard Fields was on the way to his friend’s home in North Philadelphia, when he saw about 20 police officers outside of a house. As he started photographing the scene with his iPhone, an officer ridiculed Fields and told him to leave, according to the lawsuit filed against the city. But Fields balked, and the suit says the officer then handcuffed him and hurled his iPhone to the ground.
“Everyone has a First Amendment right to record and disseminate — that’s a very important aspect of this, to distribute — photographs or videos of police in the performance of their duties, so long as they’re not interfering,” said civil rights attorney Jonathan Feinberg.
Feinberg and other attorneys involved with the suit said the police failed to follow through with adequate training on Ramsey’s memo. This is the fourth complaint filed by the ACLU over arrests for recording Philadelphia police, but the first since Ramsey’s memo.
“We would like to see the police department engage in a robust form of training where officers are told that they absolutely may not arrest people who engage in this type of conduct,” said Feinberg. “And it can’t just be that they have to be told. They have to be monitored.”
Police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said he could not comment on the lawsuit due to the ongoing litigation. But he emphasized that the police department has a written policy affirming the right to record on-duty police officers.
“We were one of [the first], if not the first, major city to have a policy in place like this in an effort to protect First Amendment rights of the citizens of Philadelphia,” he said.