Court rules Free State Project president had right to film Weare police during a traffic stop
Even so, police may impose limits on the public's right to film when circumstances justify them, Judge Kermit V. Lipez ruled. Such situations include the need to maintain safety and control, particularly during traffic stops, which can be "especially fraught with danger to police officers."
Qualified immunity provides government officials room to make "reasonable but mistaken judgments" by shielding them from liability for civil damage for actions that do not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights, Lipez wrote.
The case now goes back to U.S. District Court in Concord for a jury trial, at which jurors will decide whether Gericke's claim - that she complied with all police orders - was truthful or they believe Weare police officers' assertion that she was disruptive and interfered with police work.
This is significant because it makes clear again that individuals have the right to record police during traffic stops, which wasn't clear in the past. This actually sets a new precedent for the federal courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico," Concord attorney Stephen T. Martin said Saturday. Martin represents Gericke, who lives in Lebanon and was stopped while driving through Weare.
Attorney Charles P. Bauer, who represents the Weare Police Department and most of the officers named in the suit, stressed the case is far from over and will hinge on whom the jury believes.
Weare police argue they were entitled to qualified immunity in charging Gericke with violating the state's wiretapping law because Gericke allegedly was disruptive and interfered with a "late-night troublesome traffic stop" that involved four unknown people - at least one of whom was armed with a pistol - and multiple vehicles.
If a jury believes the police officers' version that Gericke was disruptive, the qualified immunity claim could be raised again, Bauer added. Bauer said he will review the decision in greater detail and will consider appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.Gericke was riding in a car behind her friend, Tyler Hanslin, when then-Sgt. Joseph Kelley pulled over Hanslin's car about 11:30 p.m. Hanslin was carrying a firearm. Gericke said she pulled her car across the street, told Kelley she was going to audio-record him and began videotaping while standing about 30 feet away. She claimed she complied with all police orders and never was asked to stop recording.