All New Hampshire law enforcement officers need to heed the May 23 U.S. District Court ruling in Carla Gericke v. Weare Police Department, Town of Weare. It explains, we hope for the last time, how not to handle a citizen with a video camera.
Faithful readers might remember the case of Carla Gericke (who is now president of the Free State Project).
On March 24, 2010, she was driving through Weare, following a friend home, when the friend was pulled over by Weare Police Sgt. Joseph Kelley. She pulled over, too, and then moved her car to a parking lot across the street. There, she pulled out her cellphone and informed Sgt. Kelley that she was recording him.
At no time was Gericke told to stop recording or to leave. Unable to get her phone to record, she put it away.
When Officer Brandon Montplaisir arrived, he "demanded to know where her camera was," according to the court. (Why would he possibly make such a demand?) When she refused to say, he demanded her license and registration. When she refused that, he arrested her.
Gericke was charged with disobeying an officer, obstructing a government official, and unlawful interception of oral communications (wiretapping). Dealing only with the wiretapping charge, Judge Kermit V. Lipez wrote that "any reasonable officer would have understood that charging Gericke with illegal wiretapping for attempted filming that had not been limited by any order or law violated her First Amendment right to film." That understanding of the law "was clearly established at the time of the stop," he wrote.
In 2011, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled, also in a video recording case, that "gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest."
The law is clear. Let us hear no more of citizens being arrested merely for recording law enforcement officers.