Fairfax Police General Order Acknowledges Right to Film the Police

And Provides Playbook for Retaliating Against Those Who Exercise it

Someone in the Fairfax County Police Department recently came across a dusty old copy of the U.S. Constitution, actually took the time to read it, and belatedly realized that people have the right to film police.

Just kidding. Law enforcement agencies are seldom convinced that rights exist because of the Constitution. They grudgingly admit to their existence as a result of losing cases in court.

The specific cases referenced in FCPD’s General Order 603.1 are as follows:

    • Statement of Interest of the United States, Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Dept., et al„ No. 1:11-cv-02888 (D. Md. Jan. 10, 2012)
      A case where the residents of Baltimore had to pay a $250,000 settlement after their police department stole a man’s cell phone and destroyed the video he had taken of them beating his friend.
    • Statement of Interest in Mannie Garcia v. Montgomery County, Maryland, et. al.
      In 2011, Mannie Garcia, the photojournalist who took the photograph that inspired the famous Barack Obama “Hope” poster, ” was arrested by a police officer in Wheaton, Maryland. According to Garcia, after he began taking pictures of a police incident across the street, one of the officers grabbed him by the neck, struck him, slammed his head onto a police car, and removed the memory chip from his camera. Garcia was charged with disorderly conduct and the police report claimed that he “threw himself to the ground, attempting to injure himself.” He was acquitted of the charge several months later. His White House press credentials were not renewed because of the outstanding charge, but were renewed after the acquittal.”
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  • Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326 (2001)
    This is actually a Fourth Amendment case where the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a man’s rights had not been violated when police officers prevented him from re-entering his home for two hours while they waited for a search warrant for marijuana. This pertains to FCPD’s allowing officers to seize people’s phones without warrants “for evidence.”
  • Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014) Is another Supreme Court case that found it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for police to search and tamper with the contents of a cell phone without getting a warrant.

Some other cases that cops should read up on are the numerous contempt of cop arrests for filming police that brought them Cop Block, Photography is Not a Crime, and Peaceful Streets Project.

Cop Block

On July 1, 2010, Cop Block co-founders Ademo Freeman and Pete Eyre were arrested and charged with wiretapping, trespassing, and resisting arrest for filming officers  at the Franklin County House of Corrections in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Both Ademo and Eyre represented themselves and were acquitted of all charges by a jury.  Ademo received a settlement of an undisclosed amount in 2015. You can read all of the posts chronicling the case here.

Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC)

From PINAC’s ‘About Us’ page, “Photography is Not a Crime was launched in 2007 after Miami multimedia journalist Carlos Miller was arrested for taking photos of Miami police during a journalistic assignment in order to document his trial.” Miller was charged with the perennial contempt of cop charge all-stars of disobeying a police officer, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. And he beat them all.

Peaceful Streets Project

The history section of Peaceful Streets Project’s ‘About’ page shares the story how its founder, Antonio Buehler was assaulted and then falsely arrested by Austin police after filming them brutalize a woman during  a DUI stop on New Year’s Day 2012. The fabricated charge of spitting on an officer, a felony, fell apart once witnesses came forward, including one who had video of the incident. Buehler was acquitted of the misdemeanor charge of failure to obey a lawful order.

Since settlements are subsidized by tax payers rather than taken from individual cops or even the department’s budget, lawsuits for civil rights violations don’t serve as much of a deterrent for police misconduct. However there is still a cost to law enforcement since, as these cases show, every time cops infringe on someone’s liberties they risk creating the next activist who will make exposing and fighting their corruption his or her mission in life.

Cases Shown in the Video

  1. Fairfax County Cop Snatches Camera from Motorist
  2. Police order WUSA9 photographer to stop recording
  3. South Gate Police Obstructing Your Right to Record
  4. Video: U.S. deputy marshal smashes woman’s cell phone
  5. Rochester Woman Arrested After Videotaping Police From Her Own Front Yard
  6. New York Cops Arrests Man for Recording, Telling Him, “I’m Going to Fuck You Up
  7. Alton Sterling Witness: Cops Took My Phone, My Surveillance Video, Locked Me Up
  8. Video Shows State Police Discussing How To Charge Protester