Last month a federal judge awarded $35,000 in compensatory and $6000 in punitive damages to a man state troopers arrested for video taping them while they were performing what he believed to be unsafe truck inspections.
The ruling finds violations of the plaintiff’s first and fourth amendment rights. It states “The activities of the police, like those of other public officials, are subject to public scrutiny…Videotaping is a legitimate means of gathering information for public dissemination…there can be no doubt that the free speech clause of the Constitution protected Robinson as he videotaped the defendants…Moreover, to the extent that the troopers were restraining Robinson from making any future videotapes and from publicizing or publishing what he had filmed, the defendants’ conduct clearly amounted to an unlawful prior restraint upon his protected speech….We find that defendants are liable under § 1983 for violating Robinson’s Fourth Amendment right to be protected from an unlawful seizure…”
The local paper concluded in its report “All this case proved is that troopers doing a public job can be videotaped.”
But that is a big deal. This case was pointed out to me by the folks at Witness, an organization that must surely rank among the most inspiring and important of all of the world’s moving image archives.