Federal Court Rules Citizens Have No Right to Film Politicians & Police in Public

Contradicting the rulings of six other federal courts, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals annihilated free speech rights in upholding a district court decision stating citizens do not have the right to film public officials — politicians, police, and others — in public.

In affirming the decision of the lower court to dismiss, the Eighth Circuit effectively ended free speech activist Matthew Akins’ challenge to the Columbia, Missouri, Police Department, which he accuses of unlawfully stopping and arresting him on multiple occasions — though nearly all charges were later dropped — as he filmed their encounters with the public, in public.

Akins says the spate of arrests and harassment from law enforcement is brazen retaliation for the nature of his activist work — filming officers on the job.

As a journalist and founder of Citizens for Justice in 2011, a group committed to monitoring police for accountability purposes, Akins frequently stopped to record officers’ interactions with the general public — a tactic employed by a plethora of civilian impartial observation groups to stem an epidemic of police violence and veritable impunity in courts, so common to law enforcement officers who misbehave.

Judge Nanette Laughrey penned in the stunning decision Columbia Police officers indeed had probable cause to arrest Akins each time, and — again, contrary to previous rulings from six circuit courts —that “he has no constitutional right to videotape any public proceeding he wishes to.”

Attorney Stephen Wyse already filed an appeal on Wednesday for the court to rehear the case — originally filed against Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight, two former Boone County assistant prosecuting attorneys, and several members of the Columbia Police Department — as he contendedunequivocally, prior,

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“You can’t target journalists because you don’t like their reporting.”

ABC affiliate KMIZ reports,

“Wyse took issue with Laughrey’s decision to stay on the case, despite his request she recuse herself. Laughrey’s husband, Chris Kelly, was the head of a city task force on infrastructure, which could have skewed her decisions in a case against the city, Wyse claimed. While federal law does call for a judge’s recusal, the appeals court said nothing in Akins’ case rose to the level of bias or prejudice against his case.”

While the topic of filming the police — of particular interest to law enforcement accountability activists, First Amendment advocates, and others concerned for decaying free speech rights — appeared in federal court before, Laughrey’s ruling goes against precedence established by the First, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits, which decided the Constitution guarantees the right to film public officials in public settings, as long as recording does not interfere.

In fact, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote the decision for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a similar casecomprised of separate instances in which Philadelphia law enforcement actively thwarted the efforts of two citizens, Amanda Geraci and Richard Fields, to film arrests. Both sued for violations of their civil rights, and — like many other litigants — won.

“The First Amendment protects the public’s right of access to information about their officials’ public activities,” Ambro clarified, adding that access “is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse” on public and private issues — an exalted exercise of that preeminent protection. The government, ruled the judge, is prohibited constitutionally from “limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”

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American law enforcement, on the whole, has not responded hat graciously to civilians whipping out cell phones and video cameras to record encounters in public — though filming police can indeed provide additional pictorial and audio evidence in the event of contention or disputation.

“Bystander videos provide different perspectives than police and dashboard cameras, portraying circumstances and surroundings that police videos often do not capture,” Ambro continued“Civilian video also fills the gaps created when police choose not to record video or withhold their footage from the public.”

Laughrey, however, broke ranks in a manner which could portend a precarious existence of certain First Amendment rights — rights which had previously been assumed by the public and averred in peer courts. States comprising the Eighth Circuit are Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota.

“The First Amendment is a core American value,” Wyse asserted in a press statement following the decision’s astonishing departure from precedent. “The right to free speech and a free press are central to our liberty and our ability to hold our government accountable. This holding of the 8th Circuit undermines the basic rights of Missourians and the citizens of the six other 8th Circuit states and undermines the First Amendment rights for all Americans.”

Reports indicate Akins — barring an unlikely rehearing in the Eighth Circuit Court — may indeed appeal his case to the Supreme Court. Because multiple federal judges have upheld the right to film police and public officials as a constitutionally-protected activity on multiple occasions, the ramifications of Laughrey’s ruling may not be as far-reaching and detrimental as appears now — but the ultimate litmus test seems inevitably poised for SCOTUS.

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In the meantime, irascible law enforcement officers keen to prevent civilians from filming their activities would do well to remember two crucial points: recording public officials keeps them responsible and accountable for their actions — but can also protect them in situations of disputing claims. After all, raw video recordings — not police, officials, or citizens — have no need of mendacity and duplicity.

“We ask much of our police,” Ambro wrote in the July decision. “They can be our shelter from the storm. Yet officers are public officials carrying out public functions, and the First Amendment requires them to bear bystanders recording their actions. This is vital to promote the access that fosters free discussion of governmental actions, especially when that discussion benefits not only citizens but the officers themselves.”

Laughrey, unfortunately, did not agree — and now the public has yet another constitutionally-protected right left dangling by a fraying thread.

Courtesy of The Free Thought Project

Claire Bernish began writing as an independent, investigative journalist in 2015, with works published and republished around the world. Not one to hold back, Claire’s particular areas of interest include U.S. foreign policy, analysis of international affairs, and everything pertaining to transparency and thwarting censorship. To keep up with the latest uncensored news, follow her on Facebook or Twitter: @Subversive_Pen.

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  • Gregory Alan of Johnson

    All this Satanic manure, from the Vatican on down, should be dissolved and replaced with Yahweh’s Torah.
    http://stoptheglobalists.com/FruitsFromaPoisonousTree.pdf

  • DRLJR

    Are we dealing with fake Obama judges? There is no right to privacy in public and never has been. “Progressives” want the State supreme and the people servants of the State, which is the opposite of the US Constitution and even the law of Jehovah/Christ.

  • Butch

    F U we the people are going to film away and post, post, post!!!!

  • Fred

    From slouching down the road towards Gomorrah beginning in the 1960’s to its quick march in the last 20 years to protect the tyranny of the deep state, the elite of the judiciary has become increasingly hostile to the constitutional rights of ordinary Americans and the principles and values which made that nation great. They are now being used more and more to formulate laws to protect corrupt politicians, police and government agencies from public scrutiny and exposure, revealing their own corruption and lack of real independence.

  • More evidence of the volatile justice system American inherited from the constitutional framers when they replaced the Bible’s criminal JUSTICE System for the Constitutional Republic’s CRIMINAL Justice System:

    “…Constitutionalists believe the superiority of the United States juridical system is demonstrated in that even Supreme Court decisions can be overturned and made right by either future Supreme Court justices or by constitutional amendment. But history has proven the opposite is more likely. Furthermore, the injustices that often occur in the interim between a bad decision and a better decision would seldom, if ever, occur in a Biblical court.

    “Nothing demonstrates this fundamental defect better than Roe v. Wade, which constitutionally has provided for an endless number of infants to be murdered. While Christian Constitutionalists wait for the Constitutional Republic’s system to (they hope) correct itself, millions more infants are being murdered. Under Yahweh’s law, not one infant would have been murdered.

    “Even when wrong decisions are overturned, they can be overturned again by a later court. Judicial records expose this capricious tendency of the United States juridical
    system:

    ‘…law not founded upon absolutes is very dangerous to society. Consider that without absolutes, the Supreme Court has reversed itself over 100 separate times!’28

    “The actual number is more than double this figure:

    ‘The Court had reversed itself in 219 cases by 2000. Of this total, all but seven instances came after the Civil War. All but 28 came after 1913. Over 60 percent came after 1941. This process is accelerating.’29

    “Judicial “standards now change as rapidly as the Justices. This causes an uncertainty for society; and, in fact, often establishes a dubious standard which, in effect, is no standard at all.”30 Unlike the Bible, the Constitution is not an infallible standard. Returning to a more “pure” constitutionalism is not the answer. The answer is found in returning to Yahweh’s perfect law and altogether righteous judgments….”

    For more, see online Chapter 6 “Article 3: Judicial Usurpation” of “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective” at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/BlvcOnline/biblelaw-constitutionalism-pt6.html.

    Then find out how much you really know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/ConstitutionSurvey.html and receive a complimentary copy of a book that examines the Constitution by the Bible.

  • Poupon Marx

    Each story of dysfunction, unconstitutionality, treason, criminality is similar to an additional tumor on and in the body. The Corpus Boobus Americanus is in Intensive Care and dying. The trend is down, and has been. Perfect symmetry with the later stages of decline and dissolution of the Roman Empire. Obama was our Nero.