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August 30. 2011 9:36PM

Court tells police to let the public videotape

CONCORD — Police in several communities in New Hampshire have arrested people videotaping police officers, but according to a ruling from the federal First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, the arrests violate their First Amendment rights.

The ruling in the case of Simon Glik, a Boston attorney arrested for filming Boston police officers arresting a man on Boston Common, states: “Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting ‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.’”

And the court ruled “a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public place is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

In New Hampshire, citizens have been arrested for recording police officers performing their duties — including several publicized cases in Weare, Nashua, Manchester, Portsmouth and Keene.

For the past three legislative sessions, bills have been introduced to make it clear citizens have a right to record police officers performing their duties in public places, but to date none have become law.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 145, which is still in the Senate Judicial Committee after it passed the House this session. The Senate will act on the bill in January.

Baldasaro said Tuesday: “I think the ruling is a win-win for law-abiding citizens. In my opinion, it is unconstitutional to stop people from videotaping police in public places.”

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Fenton Groen, R-Rochester, said he will propose an amendment that changes police officers to all public officials, requires the person doing the recording to notify police or public officials they are being recorded and clarifies that the recording is the private property of the person who made it.

Baldasaro noted there are a number of communities in the state where cell phones have been confiscated after videotaping police in public places.

One publicized case involved Carla Gericke of West Lebanon, a member of the Free State Project, who recorded a Weare police officer during a traffic stop for speeding.

She was charged with felony wiretapping and disobeying a police officer. The charges were dropped and a judge ordered police to return her cell phone.

Two other members of the Free State Project were also charged with wiretapping violations after they recorded traffic stops by Weare police.

On Tuesday, Weare Police Chief Gregory Begin said he was not aware of the First Circuit’s ruling and could not comment on it.

In Keene, other Free State Project members have been arrested for making recordings in the District Court.

Keene Police Chief Kenneth J. Meola said the First Circuit ruling would not mean any change for his department, because it is legal in New Hampshire to record police in public places.

The First Circuit ruled unanimously in Glik’s favor. A Boston District Court had dismissed or thrown out three charges Boston police filed against Glik: violating Massachusetts’ wiretapping statute, disturbing the peace and aiding in a prisoner’s escape.

Glik filed suit in federal district court, claiming his arrest violated both his First and Fourth Amendment rights. When the court ruled in Glik’s favor saying, “this First Amendment right to record the activities of police officers on public business is established,” Boston police appealed the ruling.


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