ACLU and other rights groups push for case on recording cops to be reheard

South Florida Sun Sentinel

May 23, 2021 8:25 PM

A mom was arrested for videotaping cops in public back in 2009, which raises the question: just when is it legal to videotape the police in the first place?

A Boynton Beach woman arrested after video recording cops arresting her teenage son is asking for her case to be reheard after an appeals court ruled against her earlier this month.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and other organizations have backed her in court, arguing that private citizens have the right to video record police officers, so long as they don’t interfere with cops.

About 10 organizations filed court documents Friday in support of Tasha Ford and what they see as a broader issue of accountability for police and the right to document what government employees are doing.

Their argument has three main points:

  1. Ordinary citizens have a First Amendment right to record police officers who are doing their jobs in public places;
  2. Recording of law enforcement activity is a critical tool for police accountability and transparency;
  3. Rude speech from Ford did not interfere with the police, as they alleged.

Ford was arrested in 2009 after she was video recording police officers in Boynton Beach as they arrested her son, a teenager at the time. The State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Ford, but she sued the cops in a false arrest claim. The litigation continued for over a decade, as a trial court judge agreed with the officers and Ford appealed.

But officers had the authority to arrest Ford in 2009, two judges at the 4th District Court of Appeal for Florida ruled earlier this month. Their opinion — that Ford’s actions interfered with the police — overrode the single dissenting judge, who said Ford passionately expressed herself while recording, but did not impede their arrest.

That dissenting judge, Judge Martha C. Warner, said that Ford did nothing wrong and police should have no “reasonable” expectation of privacy in public places.

The judge warned that shielding cops from view would mean “everyone who pulls out a cellphone to record an interaction with police, whether as a bystander, a witness, or a suspect, is committing a crime.”

Ford and her attorney, Samuel Alexander of DeLand, north of Orlando, filed a motion last week to have their case against the city reheard. Alexander, in addition to his main argument that Ford did not impede the police’s work, says the court’s opinion ran counter to previous rulings where it protected people’s rights to record police.

The rights groups that joined in the case Friday said the right to record police benefits not only the public and suspects when the police break policies or the law, but also police officers when they’re falsely accused of misconduct.

“Such recordings are an invaluable means of holding law enforcement officers accountable when they engage in misconduct and exonerating them when they behave lawfully and with restraint,” Friday’s court filing says.

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