In a free speech ruling that contradicts six other federal circuit courts, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a district court ruling that says Americans do not have a First Amendment right to videotape the police, or any public official, in public.
The court of appeals filed the opinion July 25. The ruling is only applicable in the Eighth Circuit, which encompasses: the Eastern District of Arkansas, the Western District of Arkansas, the Northern District of Iowa, the Southern District of Iowa, the District of Minnesota, the Eastern District of Missouri, the Western District of Missouri, the District of Nebraska, the District of North Dakota, and the District of South Dakota. Other federal courts of appeal have ruled that people do have a First Amendment right to record public officials while they are performing their duties, including officers.
The case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by Matthew Akins of Columbia, MO, who has had numerous run-ins with police as he attempted to videotape them pulling cars over and making arrests. Akins was typically standing on public property such as a street or sidewalk while videotaping the encounters. Akins was videotaping the encounters on behalf of a group called Citizens for Justice, which he founded in 2010, KCRG TV reports.
According to his lawyer, Stephen Wyse, Akins was threatened numerous times for his actions, his employer was hassled, and he was ordered to stop videotaping by police on several occasions. He had charges filed against him, many of which were later dropped, according to the Eighth Circuit ruling.
Akins sued Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight and several Columbia police officers, citing violations of his First, Second, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
This contradictory ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is likely to trigger a U.S. Supreme Court review of this issue.
Officers should make sure they know applicable law in their jurisdictions before interfering with a person recording them on duty. Doing so can result in a civil rights lawsuit.