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ACLU Settles Cases Against City of Philadelphia

The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has settled two lawsuits against the city of Philadelphia filed by activists who claimed police retaliated against them for filming them in public. The City agreed to pay plaintiffs a combined settlement of $250,000, including attorney fees.

One of the litigants was a member of a police watchdog group. She alleged that she was pinned against a pillar by an officer just after filming his arrest of a protester in 2012 at a demonstration against fracking held outside the Philadelphia Convention Center. The other litigant was a student at Temple University. He alleged that a police officer saw him photographing police breaking up a house party across the street, and asked him if he liked taking photos of grown men. He was then taken into custody after refusing to leave. The police confiscated his cell phone and cited him for obstructing a public passageway. The charges were eventually dismissed because the police officer did not report to testify in court.

According to the ACLU, these two lawsuits were part of a series of five suits filed against the city for similar retaliatory police conduct. The cases settled several months after a federal appellate court ruled that recording police in public is a first amendment right. The ACLU believes the ubiquity of smartphones is one of the best tools for police accountability. Since 2012, the City of Philadelphia has had a policy that establishes very clear guidelines for allowing the public to record officers while they are engaging in their official duties. The policy was instituted after the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) weighed in on the issue, five years before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recognized recording officers was a first amendment right. The policy prohibits officer retaliation against activities that are protected by the First Amendment.

The Third Circuit Judge acknowledged that we ask much of our police, yet as public officials engaging in public duties, the First Amendment requires them to allow being recorded in the interest of transparency. The Court noted that these recordings would often benefit the officers themselves. There are limits to when recording can be done, according to the Court’s opinion, in other words, the right is not absolute. If a recording interferes with an ongoing investigation or exposes a confidential informant, it is severely restricted or banned altogether.

Philadelphia Civil Rights Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Clients in All Types of Civil Rights Violations

Philadelphia civil rights lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. regularly appear in both federal and state courts. We are familiar with the local rules of Pennsylvania and South Jersey courts, including discovery rules, pleadings procedures, brief timelines and formatting, trial practice, motion practice, settlement negotiations, and more. For more information, or to schedule a confidential consultation, call us at 215-574-0600 or contact us online today.