“The best tool for police accountability available today is the smartphone in someone’s pocket,” said an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who helped an activist and a former student collect damages for officers who blocked them from taking photos of police activity.
Philadelphia will pay $250,000 to two people who claimed that police officers violated their First Amendment rights by blocking them from taking photos of police activity, Philly.com reports. The settlements ended years of legal wrangling over civil suits by activist Amanda Geraci and former Temple University student Richard Fields. The ACLU of Pennsylvania, which brought the cases, said it hoped their cases served as a “warning sign” against those who would seek to prevent recordings of cops. “The best tool for police accountability available today is the smartphone in someone’s pocket,” said the ACLU’s Molly Tack-Hooper. “We’re grateful to our clients for enduring years of litigation to protect this vital First Amendment freedom.”
The settlement is the latest ripple in a protracted, nationwide battle over whether citizens have a constitutional right to record the police. City spokesman Mike Dunn said the police department decided in 2012 that citizens should be able to record officers on the job in public. Geraci, a member of a police watchdog group called Up Against the Law, said she had been attempting to take pictures of an officer arresting a protester at the Convention Center in 2012 when another officer pushed her up against a pillar and restrained her. Fields said that in 2013, officer damaged his cellphone and charged him with a summary offense because he had been taking pictures of officers breaking up a party near campus. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit last summer said that, “the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public.”