The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit on September 15, 2014, on behalf of a Philadelphia woman who was forcefully restrained across the neck by a civil affairs officer to prevent her from recording Philadelphia police officers arresting a protester on the other side of a glass wall.
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. (This case has been consolidated with Fields v. City of Philadelphia.)
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 is the fifth in a series of ACLU-PA lawsuits aimed at stopping the Philadelphia Police Department’s illegal practice of retaliating against individuals who observe or record the police performing their duties. More information about the other cases can be found here: www.aclupa.org/copwatch
- ACLU-PA and Civil Rights Attorneys File Lawsuit Over Philadelphia Police Officer’s Use of Force Against Woman Recording Philadelphia Police - 9/15/14
- 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
- ACLU of Pennsylvania Announces Settlements in Philadelphia Lawsuits That Established a First Amendment Right to Record the Police - 12/5/17