INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A settlement in a federal lawsuit requires the city of Indianapolis to adopt a policy within 60 days, stating police officers should not interfere with citizens who are observing or recording their actions in a public place.
The measure says officers should allow citizens to videotape them, as long as citizens are far enough away and don’t interfere with officers’ investigations or arrests.
The settlement comes after a 2011 incident.
Richard Waples, the Indianapolis attorney representing Willie King, says King was arrested for videotaping IMPD officers while they were arresting a man in a neighbor’s driveway. King had said he felt concerned with police actions and wanted to videotape.
During the recording from King, you can hear a few exchanges between him and police, who were actively working to arrest the other man.
Police said, “Can you stay over there for me?”
King responded, “No, I’m going over here with my friend, going to his house.”
King stood on his neighbor’s front porch and taped the arrest.
A little bit later, an officer said to King, “Sir, you know that if he resists any more they can take your phone as evidence.”
King responded, “I don’t give a [expletive] what you do, y’all just don’t harm him.”
Waples says after more of an exchange between police and King, King was arrested.
Waples says the Marion County Prosecutor charged King with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and public intoxication. Waples says King was found not-guilty on those charges.
The civil suit between King and the city was settled in January of 2014.
Documents show the city paid King’s attorneys $200,000 and agreed to the policy that “police officers should not interfere with civilians who are observing or recording their actions by video or audio in public, so long as the civilians maintain a safe and reasonable distance if necessary from the scene of a police action, do not physically interfere with the officers’ performance of their duty, and do not represent a physical danger to the officers, civilians or others.”
“We thought it was important in this case, not to just try to get compensation from Mr. King which we were able to do, but also to get the police department to realize, hey, they need to train their officers, and say you can’t interfere with people’s rights to record and observe what you’re doing in public,” said Waples.
24-Hour News 8 asked if IMPD had a statement on the settlement and was told to speak to the city’s legal counsel. The city attorney did not get back to us Thursday evening.
Similar cases across the country
“There have been a number of similar cases throughout the country,” said Jeremy Carter, Assistant Professor with IUPUI’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
With more people carrying cell phones, most of them with video capabilities, it’s more likely now than ever, he adds.
“It’s a tricky situation, because police will contend it’s a violation of wiretapping law,” explained Carter.
He said that’s a law that differs state by state, but he explains it typically protects private conversations. He says the courts have often sided with citizens in cases like King’s because the first amendment protects interactions they have in public spaces, including with police.
Carter says sometimes what is missing from the citizen’s video is what provoked an officer to respond.
“It’s difficult for police for this reason,” Carter says. “The problem is, that typically, that camera video misses the incident that was the catalyst for action.”
“All we see is their response to what we don’t know happened,” explained Carter.
Carter says this is why some police departments have started wearing body cameras, to capture the entire event, from start to finish.