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Support the right to record police in New Haven, Connecticut. Drop the charges. Stop the arrests

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Please sign on to this letter we sent to city hall and justice officials in support of a young man arrested by NHPD while video-recording police

Mayor Toni Harp
City of New Haven
165 Church Street
New Haven CT 06510
203-946-8200

Board of Alders
City of New Haven
165 Church Street
New Haven CT 06510

Board of Police Commissioners
c/o Chair Anthony Dawson

Michael Dearington, state's attorney
235 Church Street
New Haven, CT 06510
203-503-6823

Chief Dean Esserman
New Haven Police Department
1 Union Avenue
New Haven, CT 06519

24 August 2015


RE: New Haven Police interference with the right to video-record police on Kensington Street, New Haven,Conn., August 17, 2015.


Video recording police officers performing their official duties is not a form of 'interference with police' or a form of 'loitering.'

The right to record police is embodied in the US and Connecticut Constitutions, as well as state statute, case law, and NHPD policy.

In 2011, prompted by an incident where NHPD interfered with a person's right to record police, NHPD amplified and stressed this existing right by issuing General Order 311, acknowledging the right to record police and directing officers to respect it.

In 2012, prompted in part by the same incident, State Sen. Martin Looney introduced a bill providing for civil remedies for anyone whose right to record police is violated. The law passed.*

[*CORRECTION 9/18/15: This bill passed the state Senate only and did not become law. The issue was raised again and included in a justice reform package during the 2014/2015 legislative session which passed. Please note, recording police in public is already legal in all 50 states and the provisions of this law are intended to give enhanced protection. We apologize for the error. A link to the CT-ACLU summary of the new law is here: http://www.acluct.org/updates/groundbreaking-police-accountability-bill-passes/]

Federal authorities have worked diligently to provide guidance about these rights through various means,including intervening in individual cases. This has created a recent body of literature that is well known. One such example is the May, 2012 Department of Justice letter to the Baltimore Police Department, in which the chief of special litigation of the DOJ Civil Rights Division writes:

“ … important First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights at stake when individuals record police officers in the public discharge of their duties. These rights, subject to narrowly-defined restrictions, engender public confidence in our police departments, promote public access to information necessary to hold our governmental officers accountable, and ensure public and officer safety.” (1)

Both the NHPD general order and the state law were broadcast widely in the local and state press and even received national press attention.

Despite this, NHPD continued to violate the people's right to record and the city has paid thousands of dollars in settlements to victims as a result. In 2014, in one such case, the city agreed to the following as part of its legally-binding settlement:

  • “The City of New Haven recognizes the right of citizens to film the police conducting their duties so long as they do not interfere with the performance of those duties, as set forth in General Order 311 as revised on March 1, 2011. The City shall also have the General Order 311 read aloud at ‘line-up’ for a period of ten (10) days.
  • “The City of New Haven shall also have General Order 311 distributed to all new New Haven police officers and shall incorporate instruction regarding General Order 311 as part of both initial training and periodic in-service training for all officers.” (2)

Remarkably, in 2012 Chief Dean Esserman, citing a thin rationale, announced that he would not discipline officers for violating the constitutional rights of people in our community when it came to their recording police,(3) despite the damage unconstitutional policing causes and the legitimate lawsuits inevitably brought because of it.

So it should not be surprising that yet another incident has emerged in which NHPD knowingly violated the right to record, as evidenced by the enclosed video.(4)  The video, taken on Kensington Street in New Haven and publicly posted online on August 17, 2015, has received over 47,000 views as of August 23. The incident resulted in the arrest of the videographer on August 17 for “interfering with an officer/resisting an officer,” a misdemeanor. (Conn statutes, 53a-167a)

The video speaks for itself. NHPD Officer K. Malloy detains a young Black man videotaping police while fellow officers are detaining a handful of other people on Kensington Street. Malloy makes physical contact with the man, searches him, seizes his property and threatens him with arrest. Malloy or another officer pats him down.  As the video ends, an officer appears to be handcuffing him, completing their interference – he could not record in handcuffs.

The criminal charge he now faces is a travesty that police do nothing to disguise. At no point do they indicate they have reason to believe he committed any crime whatsoever when they detain him, a prerequisite for the interaction they claim he interfered with or resisted. (Nor did they charge him with any other crime)

Burying this young man under criminal charges for recording police feeds a trend of overcharging and over-criminalization that is doing nothing to save or help Kensington Street nor does it strengthen the community of New Haven in any way.

Recognizing the national crisis of over-policing, and police dishonesty, misconduct, harassment, brutality and killings, especially directed towards Black men and women, the undersigned protest this incident of 1) NHPD harassment of people on the street, 2) interference with and retaliatory arrest of the videographer for exercising his constitutional rights.

The Black Lives Matter movement, and the greater movement against police terror in New Haven and across the country has already stated and demonstrated that we refuse to allow these things to happen passively - and that when they do, they cannot and will not go unanswered. We demand that the officers involved be disciplined and that the department issue an official apology to the young man and the public for it.

We further demand that the charges of 'interference/resisting' be dropped, that prosecutors seek a dismissal from the judge in the interests of justice and that the conduct of the officers involved be reviewed by the state's attorney's office for possible charges.

Further, we deplore the behavior of a police chief who believes he can pick and choose which constitutional rights he will direct his officers to respect and which are exempt from discipline if violated. We do not accept the idea that a police chief can balk at certain constitutional rights he doesn't favor, using thin excuses for dodging them and demeaning the people in the process. We demand that the Board of Alders, the Mayor and the Police Commission correct this dereliction of duty.

The Undersigned:

People Against Injustice
New Haven, CT
peopleagainstinjustice@riseup.net

ANSWER Coalition, Connecticut
203-903-4480 / ct@answercoalition.org

People Against Police Brutality
New Haven, CT
https://www.facebook.com/JusticeForJewu

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)
New Haven, CT
surjnewhaven@gmail.com

Black Lives Matter, New Haven
BlackLivesMatterNewHaven@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/BLMNH

 

footnotes:
1. http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2012/05/17/Sharp_ltr_5-14-12.pdf
2. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/cops_pushed_to_citizen-video_order/
3. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/cops_pushed_to_citizen-video_order/
4. Enclosed, but see also: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ii8kbnyhzr6kigv/New%20Haven%20CT%20-%20Recording%20police%20Aug%2017-2015.mp4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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