In a suit filed Wednesday, January 16, KRMF has joined with lawyers from the ACLU of Pennsylvania to challenge the practices of the Philadelphia Police Department concerning the treatment of citizens who observe and make video or audio recordings of police in the performance of their duties.
The suit, filed on behalf of photojournalism student Christopher Montgomery, concerns an incident on January 23, 2011, in which Mr. Montgomery used his iPhone to video the actions of a Philadelphia Police Officer present at the scene of an altercation between a group of teenagers and an older man. Even though Mr. Montgomery did nothing to interfere with the police activities, he was placed under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct. Mr. Montgomery also claims that the officers at the scene confiscated his iPhone and deleted the video recording he had made. Mr. Montgomery was ultimately found not guilty of disorderly conduct.
This case is expected to be the first of several involving similar claims. As described in the Complaint, there has been a discouraging pattern of arrests in Philadelphia involving incidents exactly like Mr. Montgomery’s — where citizens have been taken into custody and arrested merely because they observed and recorded police on the street. Significantly, those arrests have continued to occur even after the Department issued a memorandum in September 2011 making clear that officers could not arrest people for merely recording police activities.
The importance of the right to record police cannot be exaggerated. Without video, of course, the highly publicized Sept. 30 incident in which a decorated and well-respected supervising officer punched a woman in the face would have never made any news. Given the public interest in the case, the filing of Mr. Montgomery’s Complaint drew significant media attention with KRMF attorney Jonathan Feinberg quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer and on NPR local affiliate WHYY.
Developments on other similar cases are expected soon.