BALTIMORE (WJZ) — There’s growing criticism over a cell phone video of city police officers threatening to arrest a man who is recording them.
Derek Valcourt has the video and both sides of the controversy.
This video gets right to the need to balance First Amendment rights with the need to protect police officers.
As six officers stood over a suspect on a Federal Hill street this weekend, Scott Cover grabbed his cell phone and started recording.
“I have a camera. I’m supposed to be able to take video,” Cover said.
But the officers accused him of loitering and asked him to leave or they would arrest him.
“They seem more interested in Mr. Cover and his camera than with the man they were arresting,” said ACLU Legal Director Deborah Jeon.
WJZ showed that video to the ACLU. They’re already challenging Baltimore police in court for confiscating and deleting cell phone videos of a 2010 arrest at the Preakness. Their lawsuit sparked a new police policy on how city officers should handle being video-recorded. The ACLU says in this case, the police officers were wrong.
“He wasn’t loitering. He was, in fact, engaged in his First Amendment activity, which the police order says he has a right to do,” Jeon said.
“Those officers did not seize that phone. Those officers did not even arrest that person. They just asked him to move along,” said FOP President Bob Cherry.
Cherry agrees with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who told WJZ for police protection, there should be guidelines on how far away citizens with cameras should stay.
“I don’t know what the distance is but I think that our officers need to have that flexibility again to keep themselves safe, as well as the person they just arrested,” Cherry said.
This issue is far from over. Police have launched their own internal investigation into the actions of the officers in that video. The video is now evidence in the ACLU’s ongoing lawsuit against the police department. They say it’s possible Cover could now be called as a witness in that case.
Cover says he’s not planning legal action against the police department but does want an apology.