“The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.”Big Island blogger Damon Tucker’s recent run-in with camera-shy cops has brought the national issue of whether ordinary citizens may photograph police in action right home to Hawaii.
But shouldn’t the police be aware of and follow the law? Police, in fact, are not great law-abiders themselves, it turns out. There are numerous incidents of police misconduct, improper arrests, lying, assaults, and more that can be uncovered in a few moment’s googling. Among them are several recent high-profile cases where either journalists or ordinary citizens were nabbed for doing nothing more than taking cellphone pictures of police on the public streets.
Citizen videos have proven crucial in cases such as the San Francisco BART police shooting of Oscar Grant on a train platform.
Tucker posted pictures of injuries he said he received as a result of alleged brutality at the hands of the Big Island police. Not only was he arrested, but his equipment was confiscated.
The article is at First Circuit Panel Says There’s a Clear Constitutional Right To Openly Record Cops.(The Agitator, 8/26/2011). I’ve included the ruling below for reader convenience. Of course, Hawaii is in the 9th Circuit, but the case is still significant, if not binding.
From the ruling, the incident resembled so many others around the country:
As he was walking past the Boston Common on the evening of October 1, 2007, Simon Glik caught sight of three police officers -- the individual defendants here -- arresting a young man. Glik heard another bystander say something to the effect of, "You are hurting him, stop." Concerned that the officers were employing excessive force to effect the arrest, Glik stopped roughly ten feet away and began recording video footage of the arrest on his cell phone.
After placing the suspect in handcuffs, one of the officers turned to Glik and said, "I think you have taken enough pictures." Glik replied, "I am recording this. I saw you punch him." An officer1 then approached Glik and asked if Glik's cell phone recorded audio. When Glik affirmed that he was recording audio, the officer placed him in handcuffs, arresting him for, inter alia, unlawful audio recording in violation of Massachusetts's wiretap statute. Glik was taken to the South Boston police station. In the course of booking, the police confiscated Glik's cell phone and a computer flash drive and held them as evidence.
The First Circuit ruled that the officers are not protected by qualified immunity. That may be significant in Tucker’s case as well, depending on what kind of legal action he may choose to take.Video above: ACLU film on recording police brutality. From (http://youtu.be/lhd5_6DHV5s).
Hawaii Blogger arrested for filming cops By Stephanie Salazar on 10 August 2011 for Big Island Video News - (http://www.bigislandvideonews.com/2011/08/10/video-hawaii-blogger-filming-with-iphone-arrested-by-police) Big Island blogger Damon Tucker made statewide news headlines this week, claiming police brutality on the streets of his hometown Pahoa.
Tucker says he was arrested and roughed up by police Friday night in the old Puna village on Hawaii Island. He says it happened because he did not stop filming an incident from across the street when police told him to.
Police have confirmed that they were investigating an assault complaint at a Pahoa nightclub at the time.
Standing in the very spot where he says he filmed from on Friday night, Tucker details the moment he claims he was thrown to the ground and detained by police. Police arrested and charged Tucker for obstructing government operations, which Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares says “is basically interfering with a police officer while they are trying to do their job.”
We met up with the visibly shaken Tucker in Pahoa on Tuesday, the day after newspapers and TV stations began to run the story. Tucker also posted these images on his blog, damontucker.com, illustrating what he says were the result of being “brutalized”.
Tucker said his camera and his iPhone were confiscated by police, and that his iPhone was run over. He has not seen the two items since.
Big Island Video News first ran into Damon Tucker shortly after we began publishing video on the internet in the summer of 2008. He was already operating the damontucker.comblog, which has offered a thorough – and at times controversial – documentation of life in Puna and beyond.
Tucker has always shied away from the term “journalist” often saying he is only a “guy with a blog” … and apparently its a popular one; within hours of the incident, the internet was buzzing with the news of Tucker’s version of events, sparking interest and support from first amendment defenders from across the country.
Just before we met with Tucker in the parking lot of Luquin’s, he was informed by police that he was to be served with another document. A nervous Tucker asked Barbara Lively, the legislative assistant to councilman Fred Blas, to be present as Tucker met with local law enforcement.
Tucker asked us to stress that police requested to meet after Tucker had already agreed to meet Big Islang Video News at the location.
Our camera rolled on the tense moment, and we kept rolling until the document was officially delivered to Tucker. As uneventful as the exchange may have been, it still left Tucker nerve-racked.
Police later confirmed that the paperwork merely contained a corrected case number.
In a statement given to media, assistant Chief Tavares said that “The Hawaii Police Department recognizes the media and the public have every right to photograph police activity in a public place from a safe distance.” But because the incident is under active investigation, the police can not make any additional statements about the incident.
Meanwhile, Tucker is pursuing his legal options, saying that its hard, now, to even drive by a police car in his own town.
Tucker’s case will be before district court on Sept. 8 at 1:30 p.m. in Hilo.[Editors note: see original article for video of a followup confrontation of police with Tucker.] See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Police block public access 7/8/10 .