The police chief of Sequim, Wa., did not take kindly to the young man who filmed him as he sat in his patrol car at the town’s skateboard park. The chief warned Anthony Johnson to point his video camera elsewhere, then wrestled the camera away and put Johnson in jail for recording communication without permission. The city may have to pay damages to Johnson for that January 2000 arrest. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals expanded the public’s ability to record the words and actions of police officers. “It shows they are not going to allow police to operate under a veil of secrecy. That’s especially important given the increased police presence in America today,” said R. Stuart Phillips, Johnson’s attorney.
A similar case handled by Phillips will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday. The issue in that suit, brought by a Bremerton man who was arrested for videotaping a state trooper during a traffic stop, is whether he could be arrested for illegal recording although the real cause for arrest was for an unrelated crime. In the Sequim case, a 9th Circuit panel said the arrest violated Johnson’s civil rights because the police chief “could not have had any reasonable expectation of privacy” sitting in a police car at a public park, with the window rolled down, talking to a police radio dispatcher. Dissenting judge Ronald Gould said the ruling could restrain what police say to emergency dispatchers.