The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Temple undergraduate student who was arrested for photographing on-duty Philadelphia police officers. This is the fourth in a series of ACLU-PA lawsuits aimed at stopping the Philadelphia Police Department’s illegal practice of arresting citizens in retaliation for observing or recording the police performing their duties. According to the lawsuit, this practice is routine, despite a September 2011 memo from PPD Commissioner Charles Ramsey reminding officers that individuals have a First Amendment right to photograph and record them.
In December 2015, the city moved for partial summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss all claims against the city and the First Amendment retaliation, illegal search, and malicious prosecution claims against Officer Sisca. On February 19, 2016, Judge Kearney granted summary judgment to the defendants on the First Amendment claims. He ruled that civilians have no First Amendment right to record the police unless they are doing so for the purpose of criticizing the police The ACLU appealed this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
On July 7, 2017, the court issued an opinion that read, in part, "Every Circuit Court of Appeals to address this issue (First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh) has held that there is a First Amendment right to record police activity in public.... Today we join this growing consensus. Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public."
This lawsuit is part of a series aimed at stopping Philadelphia police officers' unlawful practice of arresting citizens in retaliation for observing the police performing their duties. To learn more about other police practice cases, visit: aclupa.org/copwatch
- ACLU-PA and Civil Rights Attorneys File Fourth Lawsuit Challenging Illegal Arrests for Observing Philadelphia Police - 7/24/14
- ACLU-PA Appeals Judge’s Ruling Against First Amendment Right to Record Police - 3/21/16
- ACLU of Pennsylvania Argues for the Right to Record the Police Before Federal Appeals Court - 5/9/17
- Federal Appeals Court Rules that There is a First Amendment Right to Record the Police - 7/7/17