PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and co-counsel have filed appeals to the federal court of appeals for the Third Circuit on behalf of two Philadelphians who argue that they have a right under the First Amendment to take pictures of police activity. On February 19, 2016, Judge Mark Kearney of the federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the First Amendment claims of Rick Fields and Amanda Geraci, ruling that civilians have no constitutional right to record the police unless they make clear that they are doing so for the purpose of criticizing the police.
“The freedom to monitor the police without fearing arrest or retaliation is one of the ways we distinguish a free society from a police state,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We hope the court of appeals will make a clear statement that every person has the right to observe and record police in public, irrespective of whether the purpose is to criticize them.”
One of the plaintiffs, Rick Fields, was arrested in September 2013, after he stopped to take a photo with his iPhone of a large number of police officers across the street. One of the officers approached him and ordered him to leave. After Fields refused, he was handcuffed and detained in a police van, and his phone was searched in an apparent attempt to find the recordings he had made that evening. He was charged with “obstructing the highway,” but the charge was later withdrawn.
The other plaintiff is Amanda Geraci, a trained legal observer who was detained by police while she was attempting to monitor police interactions during an anti-fracking protest outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in September 2012. When Geraci attempted to take photos of police take a protestor into custody, a police officer pushed Geraci up against a pillar and pinned Geraci across her throat. Other police officers quickly surrounded Geraci and the officer to block other legal observers from witnessing or recording the incident although not before several photos were taken by Geraci’s fellow legal observers.
The plaintiffs are represented by Molly Tack-Hooper and Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU-PA; John Grogan and Peter Leckman of Langer, Grogan & Diver, P.C.; Jonathan Feinberg of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, & Feinberg; and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.