Cops Can't Interfere With Filming In Public, Attorney Reportedly Claims

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Brooklyn student has filed a lawsuit against the NYPD, after he said he was arrested for taking video of the outside of a police station, according to published reports.

School of Visual Arts graduate student Justin Thomas, 29, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Brooklyn U.S. District Court, according to a New York Daily News report. He claimed he was within his First Amendment rights as he recorded the 72nd Precinct stationhouse in Sunset Park while standing on the sidewalk, the paper reported.

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But the suit said a sergeant identified in the suit as Viet Cato came outside and told Thomas he needed a permit, and took the camera away while another officer took the memory card, the newspaper reported. A second undetected memory card preserved the incident, and the law firm Rankin & Taylor PLLC released the video on YouTube.

Most of the audio on the clip is obscured due to what the suit describes as a directional microphone used in close quarters, but it does show Thomas talking at length with the sergeant, before the sergeant appears to begin leading him into the stationhouse.

The suit claimed Thomas was held for three hours at the police station, before being given a desk appearance ticket charging him with obstructing government administration, the paper reported.

Thomas’ attorney told the paper the arrest was illegal, and the NYPD Patrol Guide says officers cannot interfere with videotaping or photographing incidents in public.

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In some jurisdictions in the country, videotaping police officers is, or has been, illegal.

In Illinois, for example, the practice was long banned unless all parties in a conversation consented to audio recordings of what was said, even in public spaces. Thus, someone who recorded a police officer, prosecutor or any other member of the law enforcement community without his or her permission could be charged with a Class 1 felony in Illinois.

A Cook County, Ill., judge ruled against the Eavesdropping Act last year, after Chicago artist Chris Drew was charged with videotaping his own arrest for selling art without a permit. Then in May, federal appeals court ruled that the law “likely violates” the First Amendment and banned enforcement of it.

Police interests in Illinois have claimed that allowing the recording of officers will impede their investigative powers.

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