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June 18, 2010

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."

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:44 AM | | Comments (20)


I got threatened by a OC cop that I would be arrested for obstruction of justice while recording him harrass my friend. The cop pulled an empty cup out of the trash can on the boardwalk and accused him of having beer in it.

To say the least, I hate OC cops. I got a gun pulled on me after I was stopped for making an illegal lane change. NO LIE

If cops want to record us then we have the right to record them. Cops are no different than us; they make mistakes and should be recorded. This is one fight I'll take up with ACLU 4 real. This law and gun control laws only inch us closer and closer to a Nazi Germany-like attack on freedom. I mean seriously; why can't I carry a gun in a city like Baltimore? The police aren't going to protect me.

In fact, they just might unload a clip on me like did Mr. Brown in Mt. Vernon. And, there's a law to protect cops like this from being recorded?

Absolutely Ridiculous! I'll dial up 357 instead of 911 anyday.

I was just speaking to a coworker earlier in regards to recording police and the laws about it. Apparently MD is among a handful of states that make it illegal to record police activities, even in public with "no expectation of privacy." The use of the law is, of course, sporadic.

While I have a much less negative opinion of the police than many people I know, this whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In any event where someone who has been granted special authority is exercising that authority, I should think it'd be perfectly reasonable to record them. How else are we to deter anyone who would abuse that authority than by providing proof of said abuse?

In so many cases (big brother cameras, red light/speeding cameras, etc.) we're told as citizens that we're being recorded for our protection. Why shouldn't that sword cut both ways?

What's next? Police arresting people for even daring to speak in their presence? The idea that someone was locked up for recording a police incident in public is absurd. Dhe proved her theoy in that the police harrassed her. She should get a jugement against the police, maybe they'll stop doing this crap.

This law was terrible. Citizens must have the right to record the police. It provides an essential check and balance on police power.

Excuse me. Cops can use dashboard cams recording video and voiuce, but citizens are prohibbeted. Bull S(&^%^

Another example of the government taking a law not intended to apply to it, and using it to bully private citizens. The conversations the law attempts to protect are those, which if the government were doing the recording, would require it to procure a wiretapping warrant under the Fourth Amendment. Since that requirement doesn't apply to a private citizen, the law places a blanket proscription over recording all such conversations. But since what police officers -- and indeed, any persons -- say and do in public does not fall within the ambit of that privacy protection, nothing prohibits their actions being video recorded and their statements being audio recorded.

Police officers need to be monitored, as they frequently overstep their bounds and break laws. Thats why we have cameras in the cruisers for traffic stops- cops will pull you over, and when they want to, turn a traffic stop for speeding into a possestion of controlled substance by taking out a little baggy and throwing it on the back seat. Cops get my tax dollars, so we need to watch them.

I guess the Constitution is totally ignored these days - Hitler must be smiling from his grave and our Founding Fathers must be rolling over in theirs!

The police are not private citizens, they are public servants paid by the public and in place to serve the public. For the public to record the actions of their public servants in public doing what we pay them for is hardly a criminal act. If the police are acting properly, why would they object? What is next, arresting news reporters and other investigative journalists? Remind me again what country we live in?

If any state needs this madness to stop it's Maryland, for in Baltimore Big Brother looms everywhere. The police have cameras to explicate themselves from wrongdoing, but when they're guilty of the wrongdoing the footage mysteriously disappears or the equipment wasn't working for those 7 minutes. All those tickets for doing a mile per hour over the speed limit in a school zone that's not marked and I can't see. Red light tickets for not stopping the full three seconds before turning right. Parking tickets for parking an inch too close to a hydrant when there's someone parked behind *me* that doesn't get one. Flashing blue lights every other block. Endless reports of Baltimore PD's bad reputation, and we allow them to record our every move without knowledge or consent but we can't do the same in return? I've gotten tickets for speeding at a red light where all three pictures and the video shows me stopped the entire time. It's really hard to speed when you're stopped. You know why I got the ticket? I have out of state license plates, so they figure by the time I get the ticket I'll be back where I came from and unable to attend trial. Wrong they are.

Once at a fatal traffic accident near my apartment I took pictures of the scene with my phone. I've done this on several occasions, as that intersection is insanely dangerous and in the mere two years I've lived near it I've almost gotten in collisions countless times and I've witnessed five fatal ones. I take pictures and report them to the city, begging them to put a turn signal there. The last time I was doing so (along with 300 other onlookers, not to mention the double high rise apartment towers right at the intersection) when a short fat woman came up and ripped my phone out of my hands, claiming it was evidence unless I deleted the photos. I argued with her, and a male officer came over with his hand on his holster threatening me to obey her. I told them there was no such law and there were 300 people here taking pictures, and that I was taking them for reporting and safety purposes, not for fun. She told me flat out if I didn't delete them she'd arrest me, do whatever she wanted to with my phone, and release me when she felt like it. Not wanting to spend the rest of the day in jail (I'm on medications that I need every few hours, and I know they sure as hell wouldn't provide them) I made a show of deleting a few, but I kept the rest and reported it to the city, and the incident with the police to the police department. Of course, nothing happened.

It's good to see Baltimore police out there really fighting to take back our streets. Please. This woman couldn't have chased anything short of a twinkie more than a block before passing out and dying. Helicopters over my apartment every other night, sirens every few hours, and I live in a not so bad neighborhood. What do we pay them for? They're out there enforcing fictitious laws while the non-fictional gangs and drug lords really run the show. I can't walk across the street to do my laundry without someone offering me up cocaine, heroin, or opioid painkillers. Once when walking into my dentist's office a woman was walking out, already on the phone figuring out how much she could sell the script for. Frankly I'm amazed I haven't gotten shot just walking out to my car.

I've hated Maryland since the day I moved into it, and I'll hate it for the rest of my life. I make sure I go to Virgina Beach instead of Ocean City just as to not provide Maryland with any tourist revenue. After all, they get it all back in various $30 tickets.

What exactly are the police afraid of?

This is such an abuse of power. It's taking a law intended to protect a private citizen's right to privacy and using it to prevent the police from being held accountable for their actions while on duty.

What about all of those Police surveillance cameras scattered about Baltimore? I guess only the police are allowed to have weapons and recording devices.

Like the old batman movie phrase, the Joker says, "this town needs an enema".

I think what people fail to realize is that there are certain things that should not become public knowledge. In an age when you can get on youtube and call up a video of just about anything at anytime, it would not be beneficial for the public safety for you to have videos of police officers interviewing potential witnesses to crimes. I think that the instances in question here should make us pause and think about the ramifications of posting this type of material. I understand that they are public figures doing a public service and they seem to understand that not all video footage is important (see the city officer who merely told them that they should not be videotaping). I do not want to see a clip on youtube of a mangled family member at a car crash, especially if its posted before I am contacted by the authorities (this is the type of immoral behavior that has been exhibited by our media, so imagine what could happen with amateur video posters).

@JWeb - so what precinct do you work in? While what you mention about interviews of potential witnesses may have merit in some isolated situation, you know very well this is not what people are discussing here. I doubt you can give a single example of witness intimidation based on a bystander video of an interview, while this rather short thread contains quite a number of stories of people who were intimidated by individual police. To the extent that we enable police to operate under a different set of rules, as some special class of citizen, we are promoting the existence of a standing army among the People.

These police officers and prosecutors who insist on violating the law and the rights of citizens need to be held accountable in court. A nice big civil judgment against some of them would send a clear message.

@Bill.. It wont work Bill. As anyone im front of Baltimore City courts will tell you, being right doesnt mean you will win and being wrong doesnt mean you will lose. Do you actually think that taking the Police to Internal Affairs, or to court to face their drinking buddies, the judges, will do anything more than put you on "The List"? I took a case to court once, had solid evidence, 13 witnesses, the defense had nothing but a lawyer who knew the judge,and I lost.

Folks, get realistic. The police and military are insistent on controlling video and audio reports to control the outcome. When Wikileaks posted videos of US troops shooting unarmed civilians the videos were "classified". Why? They didn't show any secrets, just what happened. When the Israelis landed on the ships of the Gaza Flotilla the first things they went after were everyone's video, audio, and photographic equipment, so they could control the "story". What's more interesting is why the right-wingers, who always complain about government intrusion, are silent on these events. You would think that if they were seriously concerned about concerning government misbehavior they would be in the forefront of defending the exposure of these actions. Of course it's because they don't believe any limits should be placed on the police or military so they conveniently disappear from the argument.

I believe the Cop in this case was right. While the woman may have a case to record the cop, she has absolutely no right to record the citizen who the cop was talking to without that citizens permission. The citizen may have been discussing something of a personal nature, and not something that'll be posted on youtube.

I have been in the news business for many years and have always understood that it is appropriate to record any police, fire, or ems activity anywhere in public on public property unless there is a clear and present danger to the welfare of public servents and private citizens. Once a victimn is in and ambulance or in a patrol car. That absolute right ends and permission is required. When inside any building, public or private, then permission is required. It is hard to define the Citizen Journalist and I am not an enthusiatic supporter of covering everyone with a shield law, especially when there is no editorial review or control, but it is becoming very hard not to be in favor of that now. The freelancer who covers spot news even though he does not have an assignment, but hopes to sell his pictures or story should be covered by it, even if his story does not sell.

The founding fathers saw a free press (a quasi-4th branch or estate of government as the eyes and ears and voice of the citizenry to prevent these abuses of power and the potential for tyranny by our governmant.

Just because the media is currently going tough through some tough times is not a reason we or any other citizen should abdicate any power given to us by the Constition to act as the observient watchdog and to ask tough questions when tough question need to be asked.

That is truely the only way a democracy will survive----protecting all speach, including the most outragious descenting opinion as long is it is not slanderous or libalous to all "private citizens."

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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