Maryland court upholds citizens' right to record cops on the job

Posted on: Tue, 09/28/2010 - 22:49 By: Tom Swiss

The Sun reports that a Circuit Court judge in Harford County (Maryland) has dismissed wiretapping charges against Anthony Graber.

I've previously mentioned Graber's story: he was (apparently) being a dangerous jerk on his motorcycle, and got pulled over by a Maryland state cop who made a illegitimate traffic stop, cutting Graber off in an unmarked car (no lights or siren either) and jumping out his his car with his gun in his hand. Graber was wearing a helmet camera which recorded the incident. When Graber posted the video to Youtube, Joseph Cassilly -- State’s Attorney for Harford Count -- threatened to prosecute Graber for violating Maryland's wiretap law, a felony carrying a penalty of up to five years. It was in an act of pure intimidation for daring to embarrass a cop gone wild.

In yesterday's ruling, Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. quite sensibly noted that "Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public...When we exercise that power in a public forum, we should not expect our activity to be shielded from public scrutiny." He added that the incident "took place on a public highway in full view of the public. Under such circumstances, I cannot, by any stretch, conclude that the troopers had any reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversation with the defendant which society would be prepared to recognize as reasonable."

Jackass Cassilly claims the ruling "will make it more difficult for the police to do their jobs"; I can only interpret this to mean that he thinks that cops' jobs include intimidation and abuse.

According to the Sun's coverage, cops throughout the state have been using the wiretap excuse to seize people's cameras; a Baltimore cop threatened to arrest an amateur cameraman recording the arrest of a woman at Preakness, telling him, "It's illegal to record anybody's voice or anything else in the state of Maryland."

Recognizing our right to watch the watchers is a small, but important, step to get our out-of-control police forces to respect citizen's rights.