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Denver court to rule on the people’s right to film the police

Denver, CO – George Flyod’s tragic death showed us just how important it is for ordinary citizens to be able to film the police in action, so they can be held accountable if they break the law. However, at present only six of the country’s 12 appeals courts have recognized that ordinary citizens have the right to film the police in a public space. Last week, US government officials urged the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to rule on the issue, giving people in the states of Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah a powerful tool to hold police officers accountable for their actions. 

The ruling is expected in the case of YouTube journalist and blogger Abade Irizarry who complained that a suburban Denver officer blocked him from recording a 2019 traffic stop. Irizarry claimed he was filming a police traffic stop in Lakewood when police officer Ahmed Yehia stood in front of the camera to stop him from recording. The officer also shined a flashlight into Irizarry’s camera and the camera of another blogger. When Yehia left the scene, he got into his cruiser and sped toward the two bloggers, swerving at the last moment to avoid hitting them. 

As any citizen involved in a clear case of police misconduct should do, Irizarry filed a lawsuit. The case was first heard in a Denver federal court which promptly dismissed the case arguing that the people’s right to film the police was not clearly established.

The right to film the police should be guaranteed under the First Amendment

The matter is now before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and the judge is expected to decide whether the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech also gives people the right to film police officers in action.

The problem is that the First Amendment intersects with the so-called “qualified immunity,” a controversial legal doctrine that shields police officers from misconduct lawsuits unless their actions violate established laws. There have been numerous calls for the court to establish that citizens have the right to film the police. If the judge agrees, the ruling would allow Denver residents to sue if a police officer violates their right to take pictures or videos of a law enforcement action.  

This issue is timely and would give guidance to district courts,” Natasha Babazadeh, an attorney for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said. She called on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge to recognize that filming the police is a constitutional right.

When filing a police misconduct lawsuit, people have to rely mostly on footage captured by police body cams, but sometimes those cameras mysteriously malfunction or aren’t turned on at all. If they know that they have the legal right to film an incident they find troubling, more people would dare to take out their phones and capture the scene. 

If you were recently a victim of any type of police misconduct in Denver, you should contact an experienced civil rights lawyer at the Bryan&Terrill law firm to see how to proceed with your case.

Contact info:

Bryan & Terrill

333 W. Hampden Ave., #420B

Englewood, CO 80110

(720) 923-2333

 

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