Law would let citizens sue individual cops E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

While there have been scores of lawsuits stemming from incidents where citizens have been arrested for filming police officers, there is still tremendous confusion among cops and civilians alike about when, where and why people can film cops in the course of their duties. Now in Connecticut, the state senate has approved a bill that would make it much easier for citizens to sue police officers who arrest them for recording in public.

The law is believed to be the first of its kind.

The idea is that by shifting responsibility from the municipality to individual officers, police will be less likely to arrest individuals for filming law enforcement officers.

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.

According to the photography publication Pixiq, the bill 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.

Although the bill does include exemptions, opponents, including at least one police officer, wanted to tack on three more exemptions.

The first, offered by Sen. Kevin Witkos, a sergeant in the Canton Police Department, called for an additional liability exemption for police if a person intended to “inconvenience or alarm” an officer in the performance of duty.

Witkos said he supported the underlying principle of the bill but wanted to make sure there were safeguards against giving legal protections to those whom seek to interfere with police.

“I do believe that the public has a right, if they’re not in the way of a police officer doing their job, of filming all they want,” he said.

But Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the Witkos amendment would render the law toothless.

“It really would render the bill without meaning,” he said.

Looney pointed out that interfering with an officer is already a crime and would remain so.

The other failed amendments would have exempted Capitol building police from liability and would have shifted the burden of proof onto the person bringing a lawsuit.

According to an article in the Hartford Courant, the bill was created after the 2009 incident in which a priest was arrested for video recording cops inside a store shaking down immigrants.

That tape led to a Department of Justice investigation and the arrest of four officers.


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