CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – A New Hampshire man who used his phone to record two on-duty police officers as they were searching his house was awarded $275,000 in a federal civil rights lawsuit.
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who had filed the lawsuit, said Wednesday that the city of Manchester will pay Alfredo Valentin, who was arrested in 2015 on misdemeanor wiretapping charges after he used his phone to record the officers.
The case was sparked by a police search warrant related to a tenant renting a room in Valentin’s house. The tenant was suspected of selling drugs and Valentin began recording a conversation with police over the search. Police then arrested him.
The ACLU says the arrest violated Valentin’s First Amendments rights. City officials countered that Valentin’s rights weren’t violated because he was trying to hide his phone from view. An attorney for the city had no comment on the case, though the city previously denied any wrongdoing.
“Valentin was arrested and charged because he chose to exercise his constitutionally protected right to record the police,” co-counsel Richard Lehmann said in a statement. “Citizens need to know that they have a right to record police officers when they can do so without interfering with police activity. Recording the police only enhances their accountability to the citizens they serve.”
Gilles Bissonnette, the local ACLU’s legal director and co-counsel, said this just reaffirms that residents have the right to document police activities.
“The police need to understand that individuals who are recording their work without interference have a constitutional right to do so, and it is not cause for their arrest,” he said.
The settlement is the latest involving people who have videotaped police in an attempt to shine the light on everything from police brutality to routine law enforcement activities.
In April, two Oregon cities adopted new policies and training to settle a federal lawsuit that alleged a police officer wrongfully seized and searched the cellphone of a woman who was documenting an arrest.
In 2014, the town of Weare, New Hampshire, paid $57,500 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a woman who said police were wrong to charge her for videotaping a traffic stop.
Chiraag Bains, a former senior counsel in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and who is now a visiting senior fellow at Harvard University’s Criminal Justice Policy Program, said people “feel they have a right to know what the police, who are public servants after all, are doing.”
“In many places, officers understand that being recorded when performing their public duties is a part of the job,” Bains said. “Some officers and some police departments haven’t adjusted.”
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.