One week after a federal appeals court ruled that citizens possess First Amendment rights to film cops, a police department in New Hampshire agreed to settle with a woman who was arrested on wiretapping charges.
In 2010, Carla Gericke was arrested on wiretapping charges for filming her friend being pulled over by the Weare Police during a traffic stop. When ordered by police to turn over her camera, she refused, and was duly charged for disobeying a police officer, obstructing a government official, and “unlawful interception of oral communications.”
According to Massachusetts law, citizens are permitted to record police officers, but only if the cops have been informed that a recording is taking place.
Although she was never brought to trial, Gericke sued, alleging that her arrest amounted to “retaliatory prosecution in breach of her constitutional rights.”
The Weare police department settled the lawsuit, agreeing to pay Gericke $57,000. Meanwhile, her attorney expressed confidence that the landmark case would make police retaliation against videographers “a thing of the past.”
“Unfortunately, sometimes, the only thing that changes entrenched behaviors is if it becomes too costly to continue those behaviors,” attorney Seth Hipple said. “This settlement helps to make it clear that government agencies that choose to retaliate against videographers will pay for their retaliation in dollars and cents. We are confident that this settlement will help to make arrests of videographers a thing of the past.”
Gericke’s case was permitted to proceed after the First US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled she was “exercising a clearly established First Amendment right when she attempted to film the traffic stop in the absence of a police order to stop filming or leave the area.”
“It is clearly established in this circuit that police officers cannot, consistently with the Constitution, prosecute citizens for violating wiretapping laws when they peacefully record a police officer performing his or her official duties in a public area,” the appeals court said.
In an ironic footnote to the case, Gericke never actually succeeded in videoing her friend’s run-in with the police as her camera failed to work. Nevertheless, the court still ruled the video malfunction “irrelevant” as it ruled in her favor.
“We agree that Gericke’s First Amendment right does not depend on whether her attempt to videotape was frustrated by a technical malfunction. There is no dispute that she took out the camera in order to record the traffic stop.”
Reprinted with permission.