By Alicia Calzada
The right to record police in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi is now a clearly established First Amendment right after an opinion was issued on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The case arose from an incident in Ft. Worth in which a man, Phillip Turner, was videotaping a police station from a public sidewalk, across the street from the station.
When officers came out of the station and began questioning him, he refused to identify himself. The officers arrested him and placed him in the back of a police car until a supervisor arrived on the scene and ordered Turner’s release. Turner sued for violations of his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and the officers filed motions to dismiss, claiming qualified immunity.
The Fifth Circuit held that “First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.”
While the court held that this was not “clearly established at the time” and the officers were therefore subject to qualified immunity on the First Amendment claim, going forward there should be no doubt. The court added, “filming the police contributes to the public’s ability to hold the police accountable, ensure that police officers are not abusing their power, and make informed decisions about police policy.”
The Fifth Circuit joins the First, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits, all of which concluded that the First Amendment protects the right to record police.