Growing Number of Prosecutions for Videotaping the Police

Cops and Cameras: Arrests Fuel Debate About Wiretap Laws

That Anthony Graber broke the law in early March is indisputable. He raced his Honda motorcycle down Interstate 95 in Maryland at 80 mph, popping a wheelie, roaring past cars and swerving across traffic lanes.

But it wasn't his daredevil stunt that has the 25-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard facing the possibility of 16 years in prison. For that, he was issued a speeding ticket.

It was the video that Graber posted on YouTube one week later -- taken with his helmet camera -- of a plainclothes state trooper cutting him off and drawing a gun during the traffic stop near Baltimore.

Cops and Cameras: Arrests Fuel Debate About Wiretap Laws
null

In early April, state police officers raided Graber's parents' home in Abingdon, Md. They confiscated his camera, computers and external hard drives. Graber was indicted for allegedly violating state wiretap laws by recording the trooper without his consent.

Arrests such as Graber's are becoming more common along with the proliferation of portable video cameras and cell-phone recorders. Videos of alleged police misconduct have become hot items on the Internet. YouTube still features Graber's encounter along with numerous other witness videos.

"The message is clearly, 'Don't criticize the police,'" said David Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland who is part of Graber's defense team. "With these charges, anyone who would even think to record the police is now justifiably in fear that they will also be criminally charged."

Cop
Caught on Tape: Cop Punches Teen Girl

Carlos Miller, a Miami journalist who runs the blog "Photography Is Not a Crime," said he has documented about 10 arrests since he started keeping track in 2007. Miller himself has been arrested twice for photographing the police. He won one case on appeal, he said, while the other was thrown out after the officer twice failed to appear in court.

"They're just regular citizens with a cell-phone camera who happen to come upon a situation," Miller said. "If cops are doing their jobs, they shouldn't worry."

The ACLU of Florida filed a First Amendment lawsuit last month on behalf of a model who was arrested February 2009 in Boynton Beach. Fla. Her crime: videotaping an encounter between police officers and her teenage son at a movie theater. Prosecutors refused to file charges against Sharron Tasha Ford and her son.

Video: Police test out new body mounting cameras.
Police department considers on-persons cameras

Videotaping as a Tool for Citizens

"The police have cameras in their cars. I watch cops on TV," Ford said. "I'm very hurt by what happened. A lot of people are being abused by police in the same way."

Ford's lawyer, James Green, called videotaping "probably the most effective way to protect citizens against police officers who exaggerate or lie."

"Judges and juries want to believe law enforcement," he said. "They want to believe police officers and unless you have credible evidence to contradict police officers, it's often very difficult to get judges or juries to believe the word of a citizen over a police officer."

VIDEO: New technology lets us see the perils of police work like never before.
Cop Cam

In Palm Beach County, Fla., Greenacres resident Peter Ballance, 63, who has Asperger's syndrome and has to record conversations to help his memory, settled a civil lawsuit for $100,000 last year. In August 2005, police officers tackled and arrested Ballance for refusing to turn off his tape recorder.

"You know what," said the officer, according to court documents, "I still don't want that recording device on."

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Cartoons Come to Life
troqman/Instagram
PHOTO:National Intelligence Director James Clapper
J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
Baby Sister Baboons Play Peekaboo
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
PHOTO: Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the new iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts, Sept. 9, 2014, in Cupertino, Calif.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images