Photographing or recording emergency personnel in public places is protected by the First Amendment, argues a coalition of media associations in an amicus brief filed this week in federal court.
The brief which the National Press Photographers Association helped draft was filed in connection with Adelman v. DART, an unlawful arrest suit filed against Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) by photographer Avi Adelman.
NPPA helped draft and joined in the Electronic Frontier Foundation brief along with the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the PEN American Center, the Radio and Television Digital News Association, Reporters Without Borders, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Texas Association of Broadcasters, and the Texas Press Association.
The brief states that with modern technology, nearly everyone has devices to record photos, video and audio and to share it to a wide audience.
“While the Plaintiff is a professional journalist, the resolution of this case will impact the vast number of ordinary citizens who wish to use digital tools to gather and publish news,” the brief states.
Adelman was photographing paramedics at a public transit station responding to a reported drug overdose when DART police officer Stephanie Branch arrested him for criminal trespass when he declined her demand for him to stop taking photos. Adelman spent a day in jail and the charges were dropped a few weeks later.
Recordings from a body microphone Branch was wearing contradicted her statements about Adelman’s actions at the scene. An internal DART investigation found the officer at fault, and Adelman has sued both the officer and DART. The amicus brief supports his motion for a summary judgment.
NPPA general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher has been involved in this case since the night of Adelman’s arrest and sent letters to DART objecting to the arrest and offering training assistance to the department.
“It is extremely unfortunate that DART has chosen this path,” Osterreicher said, “Rather than to acknowledge its mistakes and make a good faith effort to settle the case they have instead decided to risk hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars arguing an indefensible position given that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has just recently ruled that the right to record such matters of public interest has been clearly established.”