Philly, the city of brotherly love, has finally come around to join the growing consensus that photography is not a crime. After years of legal wrangling and back and forth stall tactics, the city has agreed to pay out $250,000 to two claimants alleging that city cops violated their First Amendment right to photograph police in their official capacity while interacting with the public.
The Tuesday announcement of the settlement put the nail in the coffin of lawsuits filed against the city and the police department. The lawsuits, filed on behalf of Amanda Geraci, a local activist, and Richard Fields, formerly a Temple University student dragged on through the courts with an initial ruling in favor of police. The suit, filed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, was appealed and the appeals court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The ACLU said it hoped that the latest breakthrough would serve as a warning sign to precincts around the city and the country that citizens have the right to record, film, photograph police in public as they interact with those they claim to protect and serve.
“The best tool for police accountability available today is the smartphone in someone’s pocket,” Molly Tack-Hooper, an ACLU staff attorney, said in a statement. “We’re grateful to our clients for enduring years of litigation to protect this vital First Amendment freedom.”
In an attempt to save face, Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Philly, released a statement noting that a directive was enacted by the police department allowing the recording of officers on the job in public by citizens. According to Dunn, it was in the best interests of the city to go ahead and settle the suits with Geraci and Fields. He did not indicate in the statement why but considering the directive allowing for the photography, it would only seem right to concede defeat instead of continuing to drag foot through the legal process of appeals.
Both Geraci and Fields filed separate lawsuits against Philly cops and the city but the claims were similar in regards to interaction with police that happened several years ago.
Geraci, the local activist and member of a police watchdog group called Up Against the Law, was taking pictures of police arresting a protester during a demonstration at the Convention Center in 2012 when another officer restrained her and backed her into a pillar.
Fields, a sophomore at Temple University at the time of his run-in with police, said an officer damaged his cellphone as he was taking pictures of officers breaking up a party near campus. Police also charged Fields with a summary offense which was later dropped.
The judge’s ruling stated in the appeal, “Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public,” adding that it was a “growing consensus”.
The Inquirer reports:
“The case was then remanded to another judge to determine whether the city should be held liable for the officers’ conduct, but the city and the protesters agreed to settle the case before a judge could decide.”
According to the ACLU, Geraci and Fields will share the settlement money with some of it going to attorney fees.
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