ACLU says First Amendment protects right to videotape in public.Norfolk, VA – A Norfolk General District Court judge has ruled that a man who was arrested when he continued to videotape a public demonstration even after police asked him to stop could not be convicted of disorderly conduct.
The defendant, Alton Robinson, was standing on the sidewalk on Goff Street near Huntersville Park in Norfolk on April 23, 2011, observing and filming a New Black Panther Party march. When a police officer nearby saw Robinson’s camera pointed toward his car, he told Robinson he needed permission to film him. Robinson challenged the police officers’ assertions and was ultimately arrested for failure to produce an ID and for violating Norfolk’s film ordinance. The latter charge was later changed to disorderly conduct.
The judge found Robinson not guilty of both refusing to identify himself and disorderly conduct. Most of the incident was captured on film, since Robinson’s camera remained on during the confrontation with police.
ACLU of Virginia cooperating attorney Patrick Anderson and ACLU of Virginia Dunn Fellow Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick appeared in court on Robinson’s behalf today.
“This is a specific victory for Mr. Robinson, but also a general victory for the First Amendment and anyone who has been harassed and abused by the police,” said Anderson. “The police do not have the right to arrest people just because they don’t like them, but that’s what appears to have happened here.”
“The recent increase in the number of confrontations with police involving filming in public has been alarming,” said Fitzpatrick. “We’ve been in contact with individuals detained for taking photographs inside Reagan Airport and a journalist who took pictures of the police breaking up an ‘Occupy’ demonstration in Richmond.”
“Law enforcement personnel need to understand that they do not operate secretly when performing their duties in public places,” added Fitzpatrick. “They can and should be observed by all of us, and they can be filmed. We hope this case will send a message to police across the state that everyone has a First Amendment right to take pictures in public places—including pictures of the police.”