Another arrest for recording police
Another Marylander has been arrested for recording police under the state's wiretapping laws, this time a woman in St. Mary's County who recorded police who were responding to a noise complaint, according to the Southern Maryland News.
Sheriff's Cpl. Patrick Handy wrote in a statement of probable cause that he was talking to people in the neighborhood when he and another deputy spotted Shaw standing about 12 feet away and holding her cell phone "in a manner suggesting she was recording our activity."
Handy seized the cell phone, reviewed its camcorder content and "could hear my voice and the voices of the other subjects I was talking to," the officer wrote in the charging papers, and he questioned Shaw.
"She did admit to recording our encounter on her cell phone," the corporal wrote, "for the purpose of trying to show the police are harassing people."
Shaw said Tuesday that she recorded the incident to show the conduct of the law officers.
"I honestly did not know that I was not able to do that," Shaw said. "He just snatched my phone from me and locked me up."
St. Mary's Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron (R) said Monday that the case will be presented to county prosecutors.
Peter Hermann has written extensively on this topic, which has been embraced by the Maryland ACLU, which is representing a Harford County man charged by Maryand State Police with recording a traffic stop and posting it on YouTube (see video here). Later, during the Preakness, a Baltimore police officer was captured on video warning a bystander to turn off his camera while recording the arrest of a disorderly woman. That man was not arrest, nor was his equipment seized.
Maryland law does make it illegal to record a voice conversation without that person's consent. But it also makes exceptions for conversations conducted in public, where speakers have no expectation of privacy. A person may not "willfully intercept" what the law calls "oral communications." It defines "oral communications" as "any conversation or words spoken to or by any person in private conversation."
Then we can argue what is private. The ACLU argues that virtually any coversation between a cop and a person, such as during a traffic stop, is public because the cop is performing a public duty. The St. Mary's case appears even more clearcut -- it's problematic when law enforcement tells people not to record in public places.
As ACLU attorney David Rocah told The Baltimore Sun after the Preakness incident: "That cop at the Preakness couldn't possibly have thought his arrest was a private act. It simply wasn't. There is nothing the slightest bit illegal about a citizen taping it. What's improper is the cop telling people they can't do it." He said such demands "have the intimidating effect of wrongly telling citizens they don't have the right to record what police officers do."