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

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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.

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