Dozens of bystanders grabbed their cellphones and hit the record button as a knife-wielding man skipped backward through Times Square on Saturday. Some witnesses ran alongside police officers as they pursued the man down Seventh Avenue with guns drawn, says the New York Times. The dramatic scene ended as two officers confronted Darrius Kennedy, 51, and fatally shot him. Minutes later, video of the episode was all over the Internet.
It caught the attention of law enforcement officials. “We reviewed the cellphone images captured by two civilians closest to the shooting,” said police spokesman Paul Browne. Do police officers make clear that bystanders are not legally obligated to turn over their phones? “If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, video is worth 5,000 pictures and so to have any sort of raw footage is incredibly helpful to investigators,” said Larry Cunningham, a former prosecutor now a dean at St. John's University School of Law. Investigators can legally confiscate a cellphone and review the video only after obtaining a court order. That is not required if the owner consents. “Consent is a tricky thing, because sometimes the police don't make it seem like you have much of a choice,” Cunningham said. Many people do not know that they have a right to decline, or would be reluctant to exercise that right, he said.