Heritage Foundation Comes Out Against Police State

Perhaps the Heritage Foundation has covered this issue before and I missed it. But I was pleasantly surprised to see them sound the alarm over a man who was arrested in Florida for videotaping police.

According to CBS Miami:

The charge against freelance disc jockey Lazaro Estrada is obstruction of justice.  He was arrested on St. Patrick’s Day after using his cell phone to record a video of an arrest at a Southwest Miami-Dade store where he was spinning records for a promotional gig.

Miami-Dade Ofc. Michael Valdez arrived at the store to arrest owner Andre Trigiano on outstanding misdemeanor traffic charges.

Estrada says he began recording the episode with his iPhone only after the officer removed Trigiano from the store and threw the handcuffed man to the ground.

The cell phone video begins with the officer standing on the sidewalk about twenty feet from Estrada, holding a handcuffed Trigiano by the arm.  The cop tells two women who are much closer to him to back away, one of the women tells Estrada to move back.  The officer then turns to Estrada and says something unintelligible, gesturing at him to get away.  The video shows Estrada immediately beginning to back pedal up the walk and into the store where he remains – until pulled out by other arriving officers.

“I backed off into the building and I stayed behind the glass doors,” Estrada told CBS4′s Gary Nelson.  “Obviously, all I had was my phone in my hands in clear sight…and he only told me once.  I did what he told me.”

In the arrest report, Ofc. Valdez wrote that he gave Estrada “verbal commands to back away and he refused to do so.”  The video shows Valdez waving Estrada off only once, and Estrada retreating inside the store, where he continued to record the arrest.

“I felt threatened by his presence,” Ofc. Valdez wrote of Estrada.

Yes, this is the country that our Founding Fathers fought and bled for—a place where people could be arrested on trumped up charges because they dared to video police doing their job.

According to the Heritage Foundation blog,

The U.S. Supreme Court consistently has held the First Amendment protects the right to gather publicly available information. The location where Estrada’s filming took place – a public street – was open to all, and Estrada had the right to observe the arrest. There’s nothing about the presence of a camera, without more, that legitimizes interference. Thus, federal courts that have considered the issue have consistently held citizens such as Estrada have a constitutional right to film officers who are performing their duties in public places, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.

While it is great to have correct rulings from the courts, the bottom line is that if the police can get away with harassment of people who video-record them, then they are going to be able to discourage many from doing so. Unless the police can be taught to stop arresting people, we cannot really exercise our rights.