The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department took an important stand last week, declaring that citizens have a First Amendment right to videotape the actions of police officers in public places and that seizure or destruction of such recordings violates constitutional rights.
The Justice Department made the statement in a federal lawsuit brought against the Baltimore Police Department by Christopher Sharp, who used his cellphone to take video of the police arresting and beating a friend at Pimlico on the day of the 2010 Preakness. The officers took Mr. Sharp’s cellphone while he was recording and wiped the phone clean of all videos before returning it to him.
The Courts of Appeals for the First and Seventh Circuits have wisely found that the Constitution protects the right to videotape police officers while they perform official duties. The video taken by another witness of the beating at Pimlico shows that the right to record is crucial to holding police accountable for their actions.
It is essential that the Justice Department and federal courts make clear that police departments will be held liable for violating this constitutionally protected right.