The New York Civil Liberties Union announced today that a federal judge has declined to dismiss its lawsuit challenging a Brooklyn woman’s unlawful arrest for recording a stop-and-frisk encounter in her neighborhood. In a ruling issued yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Townes recognized the public’s constitutional right to photograph police activity and rejected the claim that NYPD officers who arrested the plaintiff were immune from suit.
In 2012, Hadiyah Charles used her smartphone to record two NYPD officers as they questioned and frisked three black youths who had been innocently fixing a bicycle down the street from her Bedford-Stuyvesant home. The police officers tried to prevent Ms. Charles from filming the encounter by shoving her, handcuffing her, arresting her and holding her in a jail cell before issuing a summons. This arrest took place during a year when New Yorkers were stopped by the NYPD nearly 533,000 times. The NYCLU filed the suit in December of 2012 arguing that the officers’ actions violated Ms. Charles’s rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution and New York law, and that the City of New York is responsible for those violations because it failed to train NYPD officers appropriately.
“New Yorkers have a constitutional right to film police activity in public,” said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Molly Kovel, who is lead counsel on the case. “The right to film is especially important in neighborhoods of color, like Bedford-Stuyvesant, which have had high rates of problematic police activity. With a camera on most cell phones, bystanders have an important role to play in exposing police abuse and holding the NYPD accountable.”
In addition to Kovel, the NYCLU’s Jordan Wells, Robert Hodgson and Christopher Dunn are co-counsel on the case.