Civil rights attorneys along with the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a suit alleging that Philadelphia police illegally arrested a man who filmed officers with his cell phone. They say more lawsuits are coming.
For now, the case under the microscope is that of Christoper Montgomery, a Temple University photojournalism student. In 2011, Montgomery took out his iPhone and filmed an arrest he happened upon in Center City.
After completing the arrest, the police officer approached Montgomery, confiscating his phone, placing him in handcuffs and transporting him to a police precinct.
“That’s not a crime,” argues Jonathan Feinberg of Montgomery’s actions.
“He was literally just standing there observing the officer in the performance of his duties and making a recording of it,” said Feinberg of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, a co-litigant with the ACLU.
When Montomgery got his iPhone back, the video had been deleted, Feinberg said.
Feinberg says this is just the first in a series of constitutional challenges the lawyers will file against the police department to prove that retaliation against bystanders who film police is routine.
“It becomes very clear that the police department had an established practice of ignoring, turning a blind eye, toward this type of misconduct by its officers,” Feinberg said.
A representative of the Philadelphia Police Department said that since the case is pending litigation, no one is able to comment.
Shortly after Montgomery’s arrest, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey circulated a memo “to remove any confusion as to the duties and responsibilities of sworn personnel when being photographed, videotaped or audibly recorded while conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space.”
In it, he said officers “should reasonably anticipate” being photographed or recorded and “shall not interfere.”
Feinberg says he continues to hear stories contradicting that memo.
Videos have played a role in important cases. Last year, a Philadelphia police officer was fired after a cell phone video showed him punching a woman on the day of the Puerto Rican Parade in September.