NEW ORLEANS - ACLU of Louisiana and the Tulane Law Clinic have jointly sued the New Orleans Police Department, Chief Warren Riley, and several officers for wrongful arrest and suppression of free speech, on behalf of two men who were arrested for filming police interaction with the public.
Greg Griffith and Noah Learned were watching the 2007 Bacchus parade on Canal Street when they saw and videotaped police officers engaging in what appeared to be rough treatment of a teenage girl. When the police realized that they were being filmed, they tackled and arrested both plaintiffs, seized the camera, and erased the video footage.
"The public has a First Amendment right to film all activities that occur on public streets, including police activities," said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "In fact, public scrutiny of the actions of the police and other public officials is essential to the preservation of basic rights." While acknowledging the need for lawful crowd control at events such as parades, Esman continued: "People must feel confident that they will not be subject to arrest if they simply see and film police interacting with others on the street."
Amanda Burnette, student attorney with the Tulane Civil Law Clinic, said: "Arresting anyone without valid warrants and without due process violates the basic protections provided by our Constitution. Those protections apply even when the public sees something that the police wish they hadn't."
The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, seeks a declaration that the arrests and the seizure of the camera were illegal, an injunction prohibiting any future interference with the public's right to film police activities, and damages.
Attorneys on the case are Katie Schwartzmann with the ACLU of Louisiana, Stacy Seicshnaydre and Andrea Wilkes of the Tulane Law Clinic, and law students Amanda Burnette, Aaron Greenbaum, Valerie Auger, and Brooke Wright.