When Christopher Sharp used his cell phone camera to document a police beating of his friend at Maryland’s Pimlico horse racing track at the 2010 Preakness he wound up thrusting himself into the middle of a growing debate between civil rights and police policy.
After taping the incident, police officers seized his cell phone and destroyed all videos on it before returning it to him. Sharp sued for damages and injunctive relief to force authorities to create a clearer policy on videotaping.
Last week, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) declared that citizens have a constitutional right to videotape police activity in order to provide a level of accountability. But many police officers feel that being videotaped jeopardizes their safety. The Baltimore Police Department recently issued clarification on the right to shoot video of police activity, but the DOJ says the new policy doesn’t go far enough.
How far do First Amendment rights go when it comes to videotaping police action? How far is too far when it comes to privacy at work?
Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California