PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of Christopher Montgomery, a Philadelphia resident who was arrested for using his cellphone to record an arrest. The police also erased the video he had made. This is the first in a series of lawsuits arguing that Philadelphia police officers routinely manufacture criminal charges to retaliate against individuals who observe or record police activity.
"When George Holliday recorded the beating of Rodney King, he taught us that ordinary people can use ordinary resources to fight police misconduct," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "It is essential that we preserve the right - and the tools - for holding our public officials accountable for their behavior."
On the evening of January 23, 2011, a crowd of young people were involved in a verbal altercation in Center City. As police began arresting some of those involved, Montgomery, a Temple student and bystander, began recording audio and video with his iPhone. He was never told he was impeding the work of the police.
An officer at the scene, David Killingsworth, approached Montgomery, shouted at him to stop recording, and grabbed the hand he was using to hold his iPhone. Killingsworth then arrested Montgomery, took his phone, and drove him to a local police district.
After spending 45 minutes in a holding cell, Montgomery was released and given back his iPhone, but without the video he had taken. He also received a citation for disorderly conduct, for which he was eventually found not guilty.
Montgomery hopes this lawsuit will confirm the First Amendment right to observe and record police. "As the role of the citizen journalist increases in these tense situations, it's crucial that everyone holds up their recording devices and holds the powerful accountable," he said.
"The reason for these suits is that this is not an isolated incident," stated Jonathan Feinberg, co-counsel from the firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, & Feinberg. "The Philadelphia Police Department has a long-standing practice of turning a blind eye to the actions of its officers who routinely violate the right to observe and record officers in public."
Despite a September 2011 memorandum by Commissioner Ramsey instructing police officers to allow themselves to be recorded in public, Philadelphia police officers continue to harass citizens for doing so, according to the lawsuit.
In response to the many complaints the ACLU-PA receives from around the state, the organization has developed a resource entitled Your Right to Take Photographs and Make Video and Audio Recordings.
The case is Montgomery v. City of Philadelphia, et al. Montgomery is represented by Mary Catherine Roper and Alexis Webster of the ACLU-PA; John Grogan and Peter Leckman of Langer, Grogan & Diver, P.C.; Jonathan Feinberg of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, & Feinberg; and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.