City police released a department policy Friday that tells officers that members of the public have the right to record them carrying out their duties, just days before a hearing on a lawsuit over the issue.
The general order was made public three days before a judge was set to hear arguments on a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit that alleges a Baltimore officer violated Christopher Sharp’s constitutional rights by deleting his video of a confrontation between police and his friend at the 2010 Preakness Stakes.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which brought the suit, had been seeking a copy of the general order for some time and was surprised to receive a copy on Friday, according to its legal director Deborah Jeon. It was unfortunate that attorneys would have so little time to review the document before Monday’s hearing, she said.
The department waited until the process of informing and training officers was complete before releasing the November order on Friday, said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
Sharp and two friends watched the Preakness Stakes last year from the grandstands and later went into the clubhouse, where Sharp noticed one of those friends being “forcibly arrested,” which he recorded on his mobile phone, according to the lawsuit. Sharp said he was hesitant to turn over his phone when officers and a sergeant told him they needed it as evidence, and when he did, the sergeant wiped out all data on his phone, including all videos and photos.
The police department’s motion argues that the lawsuit should be dismissed because relief can’t be granted for any of its claims and adds that the point is moot since the department now trains officers that people can record them performing duties in public.
The U.S. Department of Justice has asked the judge to side with Sharp and find that citizens have a right to record police, and that officers violate citizens’ rights when recordings are seized without due process. It is the first time the department has weighed in on such a case, according to a department spokeswoman. Two representatives of the department’s civil rights division are expected to appear in court on Monday.
The lawsuit accuses the officers of violating Sharp’s free-speech rights and his freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. It also claims false imprisonment and invasion of privacy by the officers. The suit also argues that this was just one example of a department practice of misapplying the Maryland Wiretap Act to keep people from recording official conduct.
The suit, which names the city’s police department, its commissioner and three unnamed officers, was originally filed in Baltimore Circuit Court in August, but was moved to federal court in October.