Boston Police Backlash Against Recorded Phone Call To Face Test

Nov 13, 2013 Advocacy

DURHAM, NC (November 13, 2013) – Last August a Boston police officer aggressively confronted a man who was recording law enforcement on a public street. Tomorrow, a judge will decide whether to continue the case against a journalism student charged with illegal wiretapping for calling the Boston Police Department about the incident and recording his conversation. The judge will also decide whether to drop charges against a blogger who wrote an article supporting the student.

Taylor Hardy called BPD headquarters for comment after he saw a video of officers forcing a man to leave the area of an investigation. Hardy recorded his call to Boston Police spokesperson Angelene Richardson, and later posted the recording to YouTube.

Hardy’s curiosity as to why the officers asked the man to leave is hardly surprising, as courts have repeatedly reaffirmed citizens’ right to record police on public property.

Yet Hardy’s call didn’t yield much, as Richardson said she hadn’t heard about the run-in with the cameraman. Despite this, when police found the recording of the seemingly innocuous call on Hardy’s YouTube channel, they slapped him with an illegal wiretapping charge. Richardson claimed he hadn’t asked her permission before recording their conversation (it is illegal to record another person without consent under Massachusetts law). Hardy says he had consent, but could face five years in prison if convicted.

Photography advocate Carlos Miller wasn’t happy when he heard about Hardy’s ordeal. Hardy first saw the recording of police on Miller’s Web site, "Photography Is Not A Crime," where Hardy works as a part-time employee. Miller responded by writing an article calling for BPD to drop the charges. He also asked others to join him, and published Richardson’s office email and phone number in the post. BPD responded to by filing a criminal complaint against Miller for witness intimidation, claiming he had gone too far by posting Richardson’s contact information.

NPPA President Mike Borland said he’s astonished that it has come to this.

“It’s mind boggling that there are still law enforcement officers in major metropolitan departments who don’t know they can be photographed doing their job in public,” Borland said, “It’s downright maddening the steps being taken in Boston as a result of this ignorance. This snowball of a public relations disaster would not be happening if officers were properly trained and then properly disciplined when they break the rules.”

Miller agreed, adding “there are real issues and real crime in Boston that taxpayers would want money spent on rather than prosecuting people who are simply trying to hold the police accountable for their actions.”

In a statement this morning, the Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America joined those demanding Boston Police drop all charges.

A magistrate judge will decide Thursday whether there is probable cause to continue the cases against Hardy and Miller.

It isn’t clear that the charges against Hardy will be dropped, as he didn’t capture Richardson’s consent on tape.  However, the state does carry the burden of proof, so it will need to produce evidence that Richardson didn’t know she was being recorded.

The charge against Miller is even more of a stretch.  It’s difficult to see how posting the office contact information of a public employee could qualify as “intimidating a witness”

NPPA will continue to shed light on instances where police, due to ignorance of the law or otherwise, refuse to respect photographers' rights. Borland added, “NPPA offers to help educate the Boston police department so that every officer will know the public’s rights to photograph and record police activity."