By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – A Philadelphia man who was arrested for using his phone to videotape police officers is taking the city to court over alleged violations of the First Amendment.
According to the lawsuit, Christopher Montgomery v. City of Philadelphia, the plaintiff was arrested, imprisoned and had his property seized by Philadelphia police after he created a video and audio recording of the arrest of several individuals fighting in Center City on Jan. 23, 2011. Montgomery was not directly involved in the incident, according to the lawsuit, but he was arrested, held for 45 minutes and charged with disorderly conduct, for which he was eventually found not guilty.
The lawsuit was filed by the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, on behalf of Montgomery.
The lawsuit seeks public acknowledgment that the police violated Montgomery’s First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights, financial settlement for damages awarded at trial and attorney’s fees.
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, said in a statement that the case is “the first in a series of lawsuits arguing that Philadelphia police officers routinely manufacture criminal charges to retaliate against individuals who observe or record police activity.”
The Philadelphia Police Department declined to comment due to ongoing litigation.
According to the lawsuit, Montgomery was recording the incident from a public sidewalk and obeyed a request from police to step back from the altercation.
The lawsuit claims that David Killingsworth, at the time an officer with the police department, approached Montgomery and told him to stop recording the incident. Killingsworth then grabbed the phone from Montgomery’s hand, put Montgomery in handcuffs and placed him inside a police vehicle, according to the court filings.
Montgomery was taken to a local police district and held for 45 minutes, according to court documents.
After he was released and his phone was returned, Montgomery discovered the police had accessed his phone and deleted the video he had taken of the incident.
Upon release, he was charged with disorderly conduct and found guilty by a Philadelphia Community Court judge in February 2011. He was ordered to pay a fine of $163 and perform 24 hours of community service.
He later appealed the ruling and was found not guilty by the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
The department did not respond to requests for more information about the Jan. 23 incident or further information about Killingsworth’s career, including potential disciplinary actions.
The ACLU lawsuit points to several similar incidents in the recent history of the Philadelphia Police Department, including a March 2012 incident in which two individuals were assaulted by Philadelphia Police Department officers after they recorded what they considered to be a violent arrest.
Their camera was destroyed by police, and both were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
In Sept. 2011, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey issued a memo instructing all officers to allow themselves to be recorded while on duty.
Courts have consistently upheld the right to record police activity in public.
In the most recent high-profile case, the state of Illinois passed a law in 2010 prohibiting the recording of police. That law was later blocked by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on grounds that it violated the First Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court in November declined to take up the case, leaving the lower court ruling in place and seemingly affirming the right of civilians to record police activities in public.