Filming the Police: Warrant for Illegal Search and Seizure?

Current events have many Americans on edge with the state of our safety and security, and one hot topic issue is that of police conduct, and private citizens filming police going about their jobs. In a recent incident in West New York, 42 year old Cesar Sanchez was arrested while attempting to film local police officers while they were arresting two teenagers, who Sanchez did not know. Charges against Sanchez have been dropped because they were unfounded, but now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey is suing West New York for unlawful arrest, and to clarify legally that citizens are permitted to film the police.

The Charges: The original arrest of Mr. Sanchez occurred in July of this year, and was arrested officially on the grounds of “obstructing the administration of law or other governmental function”. This law means that a person is acting illegally if they are intentionally obstructing or impairing the law by “flight, intimidation, force, violence, or physical interference.”  These charges do not allow for an illegal search and seizure by the police, however.

The Incident: Despite the nature of the arrest, Sanchez never actually filmed any police officers, merely brought out his phone and was intending to when he was told to stop. He initially continued, but then complied when the police officer told him a second time to stop. He declined to give his identification when asked since he was on public property (a nearby sidewalk) and not breaking any laws, and was then arrested. At the time of the incident, the police officers were arresting two teenagers in what Sanchez described as “a forceful manner”.

After being arrested, Sanchez consented to have his phone searched, and police officers informed him that he had a right to refuse. In the claim, it was that there were no photos or video of the arrest found on the phone.  Named in the suit are the police director of West New York Robert Antolos, as well as Sgt. Juan Nunez, who was the officer initially involved in the search and seizure incident with Sanchez.

Goals of the Suit: According to Sanchez, he is not seeking any personal fame or recognition from the suit, and didn’t have any overly political goals in mind when he first set out to film the teenagers’ arrest in July. However, he cares deeply about educating the public of their right to film officers and the First Amendment rights that it is protected under. He said that he has never even received a parking ticket previous to this event, and that he has many personal friends who are police officers themselves. Instead of staging a revolution, he is merely looking for “some sort of open discussion about this.”

If you have been victim of an illegal search and seizure, remember that you do have the right to film police officers. Depending on the outcome of this case, it will set precedent for other similar cases occurring elsewhere. For an experienced lawyer to argue your case against illegal search and seizure, call us at Zapicchi & Liller LLP for a free phone consultation at 609-291-9500 today.