Contradicting the rulings of six other federal courts, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals annihilated free speech rights in upholding a district court decision stating citizens do not have the right to film public officials — politicians, police, and others — in public.
In affirming the decision of the lower court to dismiss, the Eighth Circuit effectively ended free speech activist Matthew Akins’ challenge to the Columbia, Missouri, Police Department, which he accuses of unlawfully stopping and arresting him on multiple occasions — though nearly all charges were later dropped — as he filmed their encounters with the public, in public.
As a journalist and founder of Citizens for Justice in 2011, a group committed to monitoring police for accountability purposes, Akins frequently stopped to record officers’ interactions with the general public — a tactic employed by a plethora of civilian impartial observation groups to stem an epidemic of police violence and veritable impunity in courts, so common to law enforcement officers who misbehave.
Judge Nanette Laughrey penned in the stunning decision Columbia Police officers indeed had probable cause to arrest Akins each time, and — again, contrary to previous rulings from six circuit courts —that “he has no constitutional right to videotape any public proceeding he wishes to.”
Attorney Stephen Wyse already filed an appeal on Wednesday for the court to rehear the case — originally filed against Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight, two former Boone County assistant prosecuting attorneys, and several members of the Columbia Police Department — as he contended unequivocally, prior,
“You can’t target journalists because you don’t like their reporting.”
ABC affiliate KMIZ reports,
“Wyse took issue with Laughrey’s decision to stay on the case, despite his request she recuse herself. Laughrey’s husband, Chris Kelly, was the head of a city task force on infrastructure, which could have skewed her decisions in a case against the city, Wyse claimed. While federal law does call for a judge’s recusal, the appeals court said nothing in Akins’ case rose to the level of bias or prejudice against his case.”
In fact, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote the decision for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a similar casecomprised of separate instances in which Philadelphia law enforcement actively thwarted the efforts of two citizens, Amanda Geraci and Richard Fields, to film arrests. Both sued for violations of their civil rights, and — like many other litigants — won.
“The First Amendment protects the public’s right of access to information about their officials’ public activities,” Ambro clarified, adding that access “is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse” on public and private issues — an exalted exercise of that preeminent protection. The government, ruled the judge, is prohibited constitutionally from “limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”
American law enforcement, on the whole, has not responded hat graciously to civilians whipping out cell phones and video cameras to record encounters in public — though filming police can indeed provide additional pictorial and audio evidence in the event of contention or disputation.
“Bystander videos provide different perspectives than police and dashboard cameras, portraying circumstances and surroundings that police videos often do not capture,” Ambro continued. “Civilian video also fills the gaps created when police choose not to record video or withhold their footage from the public.”
Laughrey, however, broke ranks in a manner which could portend a precarious existence of certain First Amendment rights — rights which had previously been assumed by the public and averred in peer courts. States comprising the Eighth Circuit are Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota.
“The First Amendment is a core American value,” Wyse asserted in a press statement following the decision’s astonishing departure from precedent. “The right to free speech and a free press are central to our liberty and our ability to hold our government accountable. This holding of the 8th Circuit undermines the basic rights of Missourians and the citizens of the six other 8th Circuit states and undermines the First Amendment rights for all Americans.”
In the meantime, irascible law enforcement officers keen to prevent civilians from filming their activities would do well to remember two crucial points: recording public officials keeps them responsible and accountable for their actions — but can also protect them in situations of disputing claims. After all, raw video recordings — not police, officials, or citizens — have no need of mendacity and duplicity.
“We ask much of our police,” Ambro wrote in the July decision. “They can be our shelter from the storm. Yet officers are public officials carrying out public functions, and the First Amendment requires them to bear bystanders recording their actions. This is vital to promote the access that fosters free discussion of governmental actions, especially when that discussion benefits not only citizens but the officers themselves.”
Laughrey, unfortunately, did not agree — and now the public has yet another constitutionally-protected right left dangling by a fraying thread.
stating citizens do not have the right to film public officials — politicians, police, and others — in public.
well that would mean that red light cameras, surveillance cameras monitoring public areas such as sidewalks and the likes would not be legal either. ...unless of course public officials have a special status and associated rights that we mere subjects don't have.
BINGO.... You hit the nail on the head: "public officials have a special status and associated rights that we mere subjects don't have"
Can anyone say New Age Aristocracy... King George is BACK... and he is using his judges and legislators too shackle us all in bondage to his causes... PC and a new world order.
The politicians have their own set of laws , that protect them from us.
Congress has failed in its duty to remove such Judges from the Bench... on their FIRST OFFENSE. America has a very serious problem with its Law Schools and its Officers of the Court (legal profession in general)... They all need to be disbarred and America needs to reboot its Judicial System... By retraining its attorneys, using untainted Law Schools and professors (if you can find any).
The existing Law Schools and Universities are overt centers of liberal ideology... teaching Judicial Activism and rule by Judicial Fiat. Our current batch of legal professionals are compromised and completely tainted by their liberal education and activist law schools... America must ban them all from her Court Rooms, and let God sort out the good from the bad... Congress certainly can't and won't.
Be careful for what you ask... the communist want a war... it is their goal to create the conditions in society that will bring about revolution. It is their doctrine and we must make sure we don't fall into a trap... by prematurely engaging in civil war/revolution.