Radley Balko: Maryland cops are abusing wiretapping law

Published On June 21, 2010 | By Dr. Q | Articles

Below is an excerpt from a recent article by Radley Balko on how cops and public officials in Maryland are using a “tortured, absurd interpretation of the [State's wiretapping] law that no court to date has endorsed” to prevent people from video and audio recording the police in public. Balko’s analysis is spot-on.

The city of Annapolis, Maryland recently received a Homeland Security grant for 20 new surveillance cameras in the downtown area. The city of Baltimore already has nearly 500. According to the watchdog site PhotoEnforced, the state of Maryland has at least 375 red light cameras and 80 speed cameras. Your government is watching you, Marylanders. But don’t think for a second that it’s going to tolerate you watching back.

On Saturday, Yvonne Nicole Shaw, 27, was arrested by sheriff’s deputies in Lexington Park, Maryland. According to the Southern Maryland News, Shaw was cuffed and booked for recording deputies who had come to an apartment complex in response to a noise complaint. Sheriff’s Cpl. Patrick Handy’s report explained that Shaw was standing about 12 feet from him, and that Shaw “did admit to recording our encounter on her cell phone for the purpose of trying to show the police are harassing people.”

Shaw’s arrest comes amid continuing national debate over the arrest and prosecution of Anthony Graber, who was arrested in April for posting a video of a traffic stop to YouTube. Graber was pulled over on his motorcycle by Maryland State Trooper Joseph David Ulher, who drew his gun during the stop. Graber was wearing a camera on his helmet. Days later, police raided the home of Graber’s parents. Graber was arrested, booked, and jailed. He has been charged with violating Maryland’s wiretapping statute, a felony that carries up to five years in prison. He has also been charged with “Possession of an Interception Device,” that device being his otherwise perfectly legal video camera.

In yet another video taken at the Preakness Stakes and posted to YouTube last May, a Maryland state trooper tells a video operator recording an arrest, “Do me a favor and turn that off. It’s illegal to record anybody’s voice or anything else in the state of Maryland.”

This seems to be the position of most of the law enforcement community in Maryland. It also happens to be wrong.

Read the rest here.

Adam has a great post on the Anthony Graber case that can be read here.

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About The Author

Dr. Q is a police accountability activist who resides in Massachusetts. He is the founder and editor of Massachusetts Cop Block. He is also the creator of the War on Cameras Map. You can connect with him on Twitter.