It’s been almost three years now since Commissioner Charles Ramsey issued a directive to Philly Police, letting them know that it’s entirely legal for the public to record officers doing their work and making arrests — as long as the photographer doesn’t interfere with that police work.
It seems his officers still haven’t gotten the message. The ACLU today announced another lawsuit — the fifth in a series — against the department on behalf of a woman who was physically restrained from recording officers arresting a protestor.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of a Philadelphia woman who was forcefully restrained across the neck by a civil affairs officer to prevent her from recording Philadelphia police officers arresting a protestor on the other side of a glass wall.
This is the fifth in a series of ACLU-PA lawsuits aimed at stopping the Philadelphia Police Department’s illegal practice of retaliating against individuals who observe or record the police performing their duties.
“We have yet to see any indication that the leadership of the Philadelphia Police Department is requiring its officers to respect the First Amendment rights of Philadelphia residents in these situations,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Until they get it right, we will continue to hold them accountable to the citizens they have sworn an oath to protect.”
Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of Amanda Geraci, a professional psychotherapist and a trained legal observer who was monitoring an anti-fracking protest outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center on September 21, 2012. Legal observers are trained volunteers who monitor the interactions between police and protestors.
After witnessing police take a protestor into custody and handcuff him inside the Convention Center, Geraci remained outside but walked over to a spot on the other side of the glass wall to record the incident. Then, according to the complaint, “Officer Brown approached her at a full run and threw her up against a pillar on the Convention Center’s facade.” Officer Brown then pushed her forearm against Geraci’s neck. Police officers quickly surrounded Brown and Geraci to block the ability of others in the crowd to witness or record the officer’s use of force against Geraci.
“I have been a legal observer for eight years at numerous protests and I have never experienced anything like this,” said Geraci. “I was shocked when Officer Brown pushed me against a column and restrained me by my neck, just for recording the activities of her colleagues as they arrested someone.”
“Once again, what happened to Amanda Geraci shows that the city of Philadelphia is not living up to its promise to protect the First Amendment rights of those who observe and record the police,” said Jonathan H. Feinberg of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, & Feinberg and one of the attorneys representing Geraci.
Information about filing a complaint with the ACLU-PA as well as background on the ACLU-PA’s previous lawsuits against the Philadelphia police department challenging the arrest and harassment of individuals for photographing police is available at: www.aclupa.org/copwatch
The ACLU-PA also has a social media campaign running (#PAcopwatch) to encourage people to contact the organization with stories about police harassment for recording.
Geraci is represented by Molly Tack-Hooper and Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU-PA; John Grogan and Peter Leckman of Langer, Grogan & Diver, P.C.; Feinberg of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, & Feinberg; and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.