By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — In Maryland, you can take pictures of officers in public but in several high-profile cases, police are accused of trying to stop those recordings.

Mike Hellgren reports $250,000 in taxpayer dollars could soon settle a lawsuit over the issue.

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Next week, the city is expected to approve the settlement while still disputing the allegations. It’s just the latest in a string of incidents where people say their rights are being violated.

Christopher Sharp was recording an arrest at the Preakness almost four years ago when officers got angry.

“Do me a favor and turn that off. It’s illegal to videotape a person’s voice or anything else. It’s against the law in the state of Maryland,” an officer told Sharp.

It’s not, and Sharp claims officers illegally confiscated his phone and deleted other images from it, leading him to file suit with the help of the ACLU.

“If this is happening to me, I can’t imagine what’s happening to other people,” Sharp said.

Now, city lawyers believe it’s in Baltimore’s best interest to pay him $250,000.

The ACLU would not do any interviews in advance of the settlement but said the incident at Pimlico has played an important role in focusing national attention on First Amendment rights.

Activist Carlos Miller runs the website Photography Is Not A Crime. He’s documented hundreds of similar cases.

“For the most part, these settlements do not exceed $100,000,” Miller said. “When they make these unlawful arrests, they’re not disciplined. It starts off with training. We need to emphasize more training.”

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But it keeps happening, like an encounter in Rockville last year.

“It’s within my legal rights,” a citizen said.

“No, it’s not,” the officer said. “You know for a fact that you’re not supposed to audio record.”

“That’s not true,” the citizen said.

“Yes, it is,” the officer replied.

And there was another last month in Baltimore County. The chief called it “inappropriate” and the case remains under investigation.

For years, recordings from the Rodney King beating to that of a University of Maryland student have illuminated abuse. Bottom line: courts confirm you are within your rights to make them.

In the Preakness case, city police never identified the officers involved. A federal judge fined police $1,000 last year for intimidating him. Approval of the settlement will be up to the Board of Estimates, which includes the mayor, at City Hall on March 12.

In the Baltimore County case, police have not named the sergeant, who is a member of a voluntary auxiliary with sworn police powers. He is on administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.

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