Sunday, May 18, 2014

ROBINSON v. FETTERMAN: Free speech right to film police officers in the performance of their public duties.

In Robinson v. Fetterman, 378 F.Supp.2d 534, 541 (E.D. Pa. 2005), the court ruled that there is a free speech right to film police officers in the performance of their public duties. Robinson claimed to be concerned about the way police were conducting truck inspections on a local road, so he decided to document their behavior by filming them from an adjacent property. Robinson videotaped from a position approximately 20 to 30 feet from the highway and never physically interfered with police activities. The police told him to knock it off and, when he refused, they arrested him for harassment.

Robinson was convicted of harassment, but the conviction was overturned on appeal, and Robinson filed a § 1983 action against the troopers. The judge found that no officer could reasonably believe that Robinson was violating the Pennsylvania harassment law. The court ruled against the troopers and took the rare step of awarding punitive damages against the individual officers in addition to general compensatory damages.
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

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