By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
12:56 PM EST, February 13, 2012
A lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department in which the ACLU alleges widespread violations of citizens’ right to videotape police officers will move forward after a federal judge on Monday denied a police motion to dismiss the case.
The Police Department had sought to dismiss the case last month, citing new training, directives and policies aimed at affirming that citizens can record police performing their official duties. But the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights joined the ACLU in arguing that their efforts didn’t go far enough.
Both sides filed written arguments in recent weeks, and Judge Benson Everett Legg didn’t ask for arguments in open court Monday before disclosing his decision.
On Friday, police publicly released a seven-page general order instructing officers that citizens had an “absolute” right to film police and that cameras and phones may not be confiscated except under certain circumstances. Just hours later, a video surfaced of a Federal Hill man being told to leave an area where he was filming police making an arrest.
The police union is defending the officer’s actions, saying police need to keep such a scene under control regardless of whether filming is taking place. Mary Borja, a Washington attorney representing plaintiff Christopher Sharp, cited that footage Monday in court as evidence that the agency’s efforts haven’t led to changes on the street.
Sharp is suing the Police Department after his phone was seized at the 2010 Preakness; he says officers deleted videos of a woman being arrested as well as personal home movies. But the ACLU also alleges a “widespread history of Constitutional violations” related to seizure of videos or preventing citizens from filming, and the DOJ asked the court to side with the plaintiffs.
The issue has been a hot topic in Maryland, perhaps pushed to the forefront in 2010 after a case in which a motorcyclist who filmed a traffic stop by a Maryland state trooper was charged with wiretapping.
Mark Grimes, the chief legal counsel for the Police Department, wasn’t given a chance to argue the agency’s motion in court Monday but said the department would continue to defend itself against the claims.
Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun