In October, 2007, attorney Simon Glik was walking through the Boston Common when he saw three police officers struggling with a man. Glik, who believed the police were using excessive force, stood about ten feet away and began recording the police with his cell phone camera.
After the police had put the man in handcuffs, one of the officers told Glik “I think you have taken enough pictures.”
Soon, a police officer approached Glik and asked him if his cell phone recorded audio as well as video. When Glik responded in the affirmative, the police arrested him, took his cell phone, and charged him with felony wiretapping, disturbing the peace, and aiding in the escape of a prisoner.
The prosecutor for Glik’s case dropped the aiding in the escape of a prisoner charge shortly after Glik’s arrest, but continued to prosecute Glik for wiretapping and disturbing the peace. About four months later, Municipal Court Justice Mark Summerville dismissed the two remaining charges, noting that while the “officers were unhappy they were being recorded during an arrest… their discomfort does not make a lawful exercise of a First Amendment right a crime.”
In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a federal lawsuit against the three officers who arrested him and the City of Boston on behalf of Glik. The suit alleged that the three officers, John Cuniffe, Peter Savalis, and Jerome Hall-Brewster, violated Glik’s First Amendment rights by arresting him for recording them and his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause that he committed a crime. The suit also accused the City of Boston of “failing to properly train Boston police officers that they cannot arrest people for openly making video or audio recordings of their conduct in public.”
The three officers attempted to have Glik’s lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that they were entitled to “qualified immunity,” a legal privilege that shields certain government officials from liability when they violate the rights of others if they can show that a reasonable person would have done that same thing in their position. The officers argued that it was reasonable to arrest Glik and charge him with wiretapping “because it is not well-settled that he had a constitutional right to record the officers.”
In August, 2011, the First Circuit federal appeals court issued a unanimous ruling which rejected the officers’ “qualified immunity” defense. According to the ruling, there is a firmly established right to record police officers in public and officers who violate this right can be sued under the First and Fourth amendments to the constitution. The appeals court’s ruling meant that Glik’s lawsuit was allowed to move forward.
In 2012, the City of Boston reached a settlement with Glik, agreeing to pay him $170,000.
- Daniel Rowinski, “Police fight cell phone recordings,” The Boston Globe, January 12, 2010 (mirror of story hosted here)
- John M. Guilfoil, “Man arrested for taping police sues city, officers,” The Boston Globe, February 2, 2010
- Bob Oakes, “News-Gathering Techniques A ‘Core Issue’ In Cellphone Video Case,” 90.9 FM/WBUR, June 8, 2011
- “Rights violated in arrest for recording,” Associated Press, August 28, 2011
- “Court Affirms Legality Of Recording Police Officers,” 90.9 FM/WBUR, August 30, 2011
- “Boston settled police videotaping lawsuit,” Associated Press, March 27, 2012
- Monica Brady-Myerov, “Boston Settles Suit Over Recording Of Police Officers,” 90.9 FM/WBUR, March 27, 2012
ACLU press releases
- “ACLU Challenges Arrest for Use of Cell Phone to Capture Police Misconduct,” American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, February 1, 2010
- “U.S. Court of Appeals to hear case on video recording of police,” American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, June 7, 2011
- “Appeals Court unanimously affirms right to videotape police,” American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, August 29, 2011
- “City of Boston pays $170,000 to settle landmark case involving man arrested for recording police with cell phone,” American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, March 27, 2012
- Harvey Silverglate and James Tierney, “Echoes of Rodney King,” The Boston Phoenix, February 21, 2008
- “A Vital Liberty,” The New York Times, September 1, 2011
- “A victory for civil liberties,” The Boston Globe, September 8, 2011
Legal documents and court cases
- Glik’s lawsuit (.pdf format)
- Amicus brief (.pdf format) — A “friend of the court” brief submitted by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Copwatch, and others in support of Glik
- Police officers’ appeal (.pdf format) — Appeal arguing that the officers were entitled to “qualified immunity” from Glik’s lawsuit
- ACLU’s First Circuit brief (.pdf format) — Brief submitted to the appeals court for the hearing for the “qualified immunity” dispute
- First Circuit ruling (.pdf format) — Federal appeals court ruling on the “qualified immunity” dispute