As part of a settlement to a federal civil rights case, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department will be instituting a new policy prohibiting police officers from interfering with civilians who are recording their actions.
The policy change was included in a settlement agreement with Indianapolis resident Willie King who was arrested in February 2011 after he used his cellphone to videotape police officers arresting another man. King was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and public intoxication.
Following a bench trial that found him not guilty, King filed a federal civil rights case against the city of Indianapolis and the police officers involved in the incident. The lawsuit, Willie E. King v. The City of Indianapolis, Jonathan M. Lawlis, Robert K. McCauley, Brad Alford, Michael B. Wright and David Miller, 1:11-cv-01727, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.
King claimed the city and the officers violated his First, Fourth and 14th amendment rights. In addition, he asserted the IMPD used excessive force against him and that he was a victim of false arrest and malicious prosecution.
The settlement was reached within weeks of King’s March 10, 2014, trial date. Along with requiring the city to implement a new policy, the settlement also awarded King $200,000 in damages.
“Willie King was wronged when the officers stopped his videotaping and took away his cellphone,” said King’s attorney Richard Waples. “We want to make sure that in the future police officers understand that people have the right to video record their actions.”
Within two months of signing the settlement agreement, the city’s police chief must issue a legal bulletin that explains officers should not interfere with civilians who are observing or recording their actions in public as long as these civilians maintain a safe and reasonable distance from the scene, do not interfere with the officers’ work, and do not pose a danger.
Waples, partner at Waples and Hanger, called the settlement an “important victory” and one that “secures the right of all citizens to observe and record police officers’ public actions.”
King began videotaping the officers during the February incident when he became concerned that they were physically abusing the young man they were handcuffing. He retrieved his cellphone from his vehicle and began digitally recording the incident. He first walked to his neighbor’s property, then proceeded to the neighbor’s front porch.
A police officer walked over to King and ordered him to handover his phone. When King did not, the officer grabbed King, tackled him to the ground and, with the help of another officer, confiscated King’s cellphone and arrested him.
King alleged his First Amendment right to observe and record the actions of government officials in public was violated when the police interfered with his videotaping. Also, he claimed his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure was violated when police threw him to the ground injuring his shoulder and forcefully confiscating his cellphone.