Oregon woman sues cops over videotaping police

“A cell phone video is driving a federal lawsuit in Oregon where a Portland woman is suing the city. Carrie Medina says police took her phone after she used it to record and broadcast the arrest of a man two years ago, reports CBS News.

You can go on YouTube and find dozens of videos posted by ordinary citizens who were harassed, and in some cases arrested, for videoing police activity. Ever since four L.A. cops got in hot water for beating the shit out of Rodney King in 1991, cops all over America have been extremely antagonistic to bystanders recording their actions.

In that case, a citizen recorded the incident with his cell phone, and based largely on that video, King collected a damage award of $5.5 million (including $1.7 million attorney fees) and two of the cops went to federal prison.

State laws vary, and in a few places these innocent citizens have been threatened with long prison sentences under state wiretapping statutes, but generally speaking it’s legal to video record in public places. In fact, it may be a constitutional right. But many cops either haven’t gotten the word, or choose to ignore citizens’ rights.

Carrie Medina was riding a bus in Portland when she saw two cops roughly arresting a young man. So she got off the bus and used her cell phone to record the incident. One of the cops approached her and said, “I don’t need a subpoena to search your phone for evidence,” then grabbed it away from her.

Yesterday Medina, who’s represented by the ACLU, sued the city of Portland, the city of Gresham, and the transit agency in federal court, claiming her First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated. CBS reports that Gresham’s police chief “sent an email to his officers a month after the incident reminding them that ‘…videotaping by the public is part of police work today … they have the absolute right to do that.'”

(Note: Cops who try to seize citizens’ cellphones often use the “evidence” excuse, but erasing the video isn’t collecting evidence, it’s destroying evidence, which is a prosecutable crime.)

Given that we live in a country in which the normal channels of police accountability have completely broken down, and cops who violate citizens’ rights are neither prosecuted nor disciplined, the only tool left for bringing cops back in line is filing civil lawsuits against their municipal employers. But even that’s very difficult, because cops enjoy qualified immunity. The ACLU and Ms. Medina most likely will get an injunction and attorney fees. Then what happens when street cops aren’t aware of, or choose to ignore, a federal court injunction? After all, they’re already unaware of, or ignoring, citizens’ constitutional rights.

Photo: Carrie Medina, center, and ACLU officials announce a federal lawsuit against bully cops who seized her cell phone because she legally recorded police activity.


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