Suits Could Make Media Liable for Violations On Police Ridealongs


The Biography Channel and its parent company face two federal lawsuits that look to test the limits of media liability for alleged civil rights violations that occur during police ride-along programs, says the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Only the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has held that the news media can be liable for civil rights violations when they entered private property with officials.

Both suits are over footage shown in a show called “Female Forces” that follows female officers with “brains, beauty and a badge” as they patrol the suburbs of Chicago. In one case, a U.S. District Court judge in Chicago ruled the cable network may have violated a woman's civil rights by broadcasting her likeness and identity during an episode of the reality series. Both lawsuits seek to hold the channel liable for alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Bruce Johnson, a media lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle, said that if the “Female Forces” broadcasters are ultimately held liable, media that broadcast an arrest could risk civil liability if the photographer or camera crew had any prior agreement or understanding with the police department making the arrest, regardless of whether the arrest takes place in public view. “This [case] elevates that very commonsense and I think appropriate activity into a very dangerous [] problem for news organizations” said Johnson, who is not involved in the Biography Channel lawsuits.

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