ACLU To Sue Baltimore Police; Says Citizens Have Right To Record Them

BALTIMORE (WJZ)– A controversial arrest at Preakness caught on camera, then wiped clean by police. The video shows a woman thrown to the ground by officers at Preakness.

Weijia Jiang explains how the camera’s owner is taking the city police department to task.

In this lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleges this case is just one of many in which Baltimore police officers misused authority to get people to stop filming them in the field.

A large crowd watched a Laurel woman lying in a pool of blood at the 2010 Preakness Stakes, wrestling with several Baltimore officers.

The police report says officers punched the woman after she hit them first. Many pulled out cell phones to record it all, including 37-year-old Christopher Sharp.

“A couple of police officers told me I had to give them the phone for evidence,” said Sharp, who is the plaintiff in this case. “I told them I didn’t want to.”

Eventually Sharp agreed to let police download the video of the girl. Sharp says instead, they erased it, along with many family videos of his 7-year-old.

“They stole a part of my son’s life from me,” Sharp said.

Now Sharp and the ACLU of Maryland plan to file this lawsuit against the police department, the commissioner and all officers involved.

“Citizens have a right under the first amendment to record what goes on in public,” said Deborah Jeon, legal director of the ACLU of Maryland. “The police record us all the time.”

“I don’t want to go to jail,” said Anthony Graber. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Last year, Anthony Graber faced felony charges after he used a helmet cam to record a state trooper during a traffic stop– then posted it on youtube. The court sided with Graber. Under Maryland law, conversations in private can’t be taped without all parties consent. Those in public– where police work– aren’t always protected.

A Baltimore police spokesman says the department does not have a concrete policy regarding how officers should react to being filmed while working. He says they’re waiting for a ruling from the attorney general.

The ACLU plans to file the lawsuit if police do not respond to a letter they sent addressing concerns within three weeks.

  • Owings Mills

    That’s one of the big problems with society today. I don’t think anyone has a right to videotape anyone else. What I do and/or say is none of anyone else’s business.

    • CoreF

      In public it is. Don’t like it? Stay in the privacy of your own home.

  • Bottom Line

    Let me start by saying that the woman was wrong to hit the officer(s). The officers hit her back. They have a right to hit her in self defense if they choose to. The question here, is why they chose to. These are two grown men that have been trained to subdue resisters of arrest; without hitting them. My initial thought is that her actions provoked anger, on the part of the officers. The article says she was lying in a pool of blood, while many video-taped the event with their cell phones. It would seem that the officers knew that they had used excessive force, and feared reprocussion. The decision to erase the video was made to “hide evidence” , not collect it, as they had told Sharp. This was their second mistake. They used their authority to intimidate and control the actions of Sharp, for the purpose of disposing of evidence. In doing so, they violated his right to personal property. They decieved him, in order to dispose of his property. The article says that a spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Dept. stated that they do not have a concrete policy, regarding how officers should react when they are video-taped while working. What a crock of $#!&. These officers are “in the business” of enforcing the law. The law says that Sharp has the right to video-tape in public. These officers were not enforcing the law; they were breaking it. Intentionally. All officers have sworn an oath to uphold the law. When their actions clearly show that they choose not to uphold that oath, their career in law enforcement needs to be terminated.

  • Brenda Cole

    Bravo Bottom Line! This is just a small sample of what we can expect as the police departments and law enforcement in general march into the future. Remember with just one fell swoop of the pen, the president can put us into a state of marshal law under the patriot act. Maybe they are just warming up. Citizens are getting sick of their rights systematically being stripped away. We won’t stand for it. The time will come for revolution and we’ve seen examples of this generation coming of age and coming into their own principles. These are new times we are witnessing. Hold on because I suspect the ride is going to get a lot more bumpy and foggy before we know it.

  • JQP

    The police are public servants. They should expect to be under scrutiny, and if this makes them better, more ethical human beings, then I can’t see that there is anything wrong with recording their actions. Isn’t it standard practice for many police cars to have cameras on their dashboards to record how events transpire?

    It just seems to me that the only time the use of cameras is in question is when the officer’s conduct is in question (I.e., the harbor cop and the skateboarder).

    And to reiterate the commenter’s statement above, if you don’t want to be on camera these days, then stay in your house because businesses, the police and even private citizens have security cameras all over the place. Your friends take pictures at a birthday party and post them all over Facebook. Our police department in this city is not doing so hot in the way of establishing trust. This is a good place to start.

  • Big Brother Lives

    Few people know about recent trends of government to “train” law enforcement and National Guardsman for riot control.

    Our government is becoming increasingly concerned about the possibility of riots occurring, due to economic stressors.

    The training has raised some questions/complaints by enforcement officers, regarding what has been promoted as “acceptable use of force” against citizens (us).

    For every (one) officer that has the conscience to question the training, there are 100 officers that are “o.k.” with the use of teargas, pepper spray in the eyes, and the use of clubs and night sticks against those who wish to express their concerns against government.

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