The Connecticut state Senate passed legislation last week that would hold police officers in the state personally liable for violating a citizen's First Amendment right to videotape their actions. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Eric Coleman (D-Bloomfield).
"Sometimes we become aware of incidents where police officers have been overzealous or abusive and not act in a very complimentary way towards the citizens who deserve to be served and protected," Coleman said.
The Connecticut bill, which still must pass the state's House of Representatives, is part of a trend toward increased legal protection for citizens filming police officers in the line of duty. At least one appeals court has recognized that citizens have a First Amendment right to record the actions of on-duty police officers in public places. But police officers often enjoy "qualified immunity," meaning that liability for police misconduct falls on the city (e.g. taxpayers) rather than on individual officers. Sen. Coleman's proposal would change that, giving police officers a stronger incentive to respect the constitutional rights of Connecticut citizens.
The proposal includes several broad exemptions. Officers are not liable if they have a reasonable belief that their actions are necessary to enforce the law, protect public safety, preserve the integrity of a crime scene, or protect the privacy of crime victims or others.
The Senate rejected an amendment that would have added an exception for arresting someone whose actions "inconvenience or alarm" a police officer. Critics argued that such a broad exemption would render the legislation toothless.
The Connecticut state senate approved a bill Thursday that would allow citizens to sue police officers who arrest them for recording in public, apparently the first of its kind in the nation. As it is now, cops act with reckless immunity knowing the worst that can happen is their municipalties (read: taxpayers) would be responsible for shelling out lawsuits.
Senate Bill 245, which was introduced by Democratic Senator Eric Coleman and approved by a co-partisan margin of 42-11, must now go before the House. The bill, which would go into effect on October 1, 2012, states the following:
This bill makes peace officers potentially liable for damages for interfering with a person taking a photograph, digital still, or video image of either the officer or a colleague performing his or her job duties. Under the bill, officers cannot be found liable if they reasonably believed that the interference was necessary to (1) lawfully enforce a criminal law or municipal ordinance; (2) protect public safety; (3) preserve the integrity of a crime scene or criminal investigation; (4) safeguard the privacy of a crime victim or other person; or (5) enforce Judicial Branch rules and policies that limit taking photographs, videotaping, or otherwise recording images in branch facilities.
Officers found liable of this offense are entitled, under existing law, to indemnification (repayment) from their state or municipal employer if they were acting within their scope of authority and the conduct was not willful, wanton, or reckless.
According to the Hartford Courant, the bill was inspired by the 2009 incident in which a priest was arrested for video recording cops inside a store shaking down immigrants, which led to a Department of Justice investigation and the arrest of four officers.