By Chaka Holley
Do you know your rights? Let’s take a little quiz.
1. Is it legal to video record your interaction with a police officer?
2. Is it legal to video record a police officer interacting with someone
3. In your state is it legal to privately record an interaction with
Keep reading, you might be surprised by the answers.
All these questions have been raised in connection with several recent
cases. Take the case of Anthony Graber. Graber was ticketed after recklessly speeding
down an interstate highway on his motorcycle. Surprisingly, Graber recorded
thesing a helmet camera. He even got video footage of a plain clothe state
police officer jumping out of a car, with a gun pulled and pointed at Graber,
after Graber had stopped for a traffic light.
Graber was cited for his behavior and released to go home. Graber posted the video
online. “Days later, Maryland State Police conducted an early-morning raid on
Graber’s home, held Graber and his parents for 90 minutes, confiscated computer
equipment, arrested him, and took him to jail.” Graber was charged with violating
wiretapping law because he failed to gain consent from the officer to record
their interaction days prior. Graber was facing 16 years in prison. It turns
out that under wire tapping law, “it is a felony to video record a police
officer” without prior consent. At least this is true in the state of Maryland.
Keep reading to find out what happened to Graber.
Unfortunately, Graber’s case is not anecdotal. Several other cases have caught media
attention. Check out Emily Good’s video. Standing in her front yard, she
records police officers stop and search of a young black man; she is asked by a
police officer to go into her house. Good declines, apparently believing that
she has the right to both video record the officers and to stand on her lawn.
Good was arrested for “disobeying an officer” and charged with “obstruction of a government agent”.
With the rise of electronic video/audio recording devices, visual records of police
brutality and misconduct are made public via websites like youtube.com. The
1991 video recording of Rodney King being beaten by police officers and the
2009 video recording of Oscar Grant being murdered by a police officer were aired
all over the news and posted on the internet. These cases resulted in riots and
public out cries for justice.
In many cases officers have not been charged or convicted of the crimes displayed
in the recordings, however, some officers have received jail time or been
dismissed from their jobs. In the Oscar Grant case, officer Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to two years in prison.
As a form of intimidation, police are using wire
tapping laws to arrest those who scrutinize police behavior. When a
person comes in contact with law enforcement, having the ability to record the
interaction is empowering. It is a reminder that officers are servants of the
public and their actions should be public knowledge. Making their actions
public knowledge makes them accountable for their actions.
Whether their duties are public or not, is questionable. In the Graber case and others,
officers have argued that their rights were violated as they were not aware
that they were being recorded.
David Roach, an ALCU attorney says “It’s not that recording any conversation is illegal without consent. It’s that
recording a private conversation is illegal without consent. So then the question is, ‘Are the words of a police officer spoken on
duty, in uniform, in public a ‘private conversation.’ And every court that has ever considered that question has said that they are not.”
Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. dismissed Graber’s case noting that police
officers cannot expect to have privacy while performing their duties. Good’s
case was also dismissed after it was determined that she did nothing wrong.
Citizens who know their rights are able to live within the limits of the law; the same is true for officers. Officers who
choose to engage in misconduct will remain under the scrutiny of the ublic and their recording devices.
Let’s see how you did on the quiz:
Answers to quiz: 1. Yes, you can video record police activity in
public venues 2. Yes, you can video record police activity in
public venues 3. In 12 US states it is illegal to record private
interactions without consent.
Chaka Holley, a Friends of Justice summer intern, is a student at Chicago Theological Seminary