Thursday, August 14, 2014

Court Rules No Qualified Immunity for Officer Accused of Deleting Video

On August 5, 2014, a U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California held in Crago v. Leonard that an officer was not entitled to qualified immunity in a First Amendment lawsuit. The plaintiff, a probationer, alleged the officer violated her First Amendment rights when he did not allow her to record a search.

The circumstances in this case began when an officer received information that the plaintiff stole metal and a vehicle battery. The officer knew the plaintiff was on searchable probation and went to her house. He found her digging through her purse in the garage. He searched her purse and found a pipe and methamphetamine. The plaintiff alleged the officer seized her laptop computer after she told him she was recording the search. She further alleged the officer deleted the recording and said recording was not allowed.

Qualified immunity applies unless the official's conduct violated a clearly established constitutional right. The "First Amendment right to film matters of public interest" encompasses an individual's right to record police officers in the course of their duties. Other courts have held police officers may refuse recording if it interferes with the performance of those duties. However, no evidence was presented to the court to show the recording in this case interfered with the officers duties. As such, the court found the officer failed to establish his entitlement to qualified immunity.