Twice in five days, Memphis Police officers have been accused of interfering with citizens who were using their cellphones to record police activities, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The First Amendment guarantees people the right to film public activities, civil liberties experts said. Last November, the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened such protections when it refused to hear an appeal concerning an Illinois law that would have made it illegal to record police.
In both Memphis cases, one at a homeless shelter, the other a hip-hop gathering, those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct or obstructing a highway or passageway. Handcuffs effectively ended those recording attempts. “The people who are recording are winning in court. But the problem is that, out on the streets, police officers can informally order people to put their phones away or threaten them with arrest if they don't,” said Tim Lynch, director of the criminal justice program of the Cato Institute. Hedy Weinberg of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “It's very clear that government cannot pass laws or rules prohibiting the videotaping of police officers conducting their public duties in public places.” Shelby County prosecutor Amy Weirich generally agreed that such filming was legal, she also encouraged citizens to obey the commands of police.