Posts Tagged ‘aclu’

ACLU sues over man’s arrest for videotaping police

August 14, 2009

By Jill King Greenwood
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, August 13, 2009

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Hill District man who was arrested for recording an incident between his friend and police.

The suit, filed today, stems from an April 29 incident between a friend of Elijah Matheny, 29, and University of Pittsburgh police officers. Matheny and his friend, who isn’t named in the suit, went to Oakalnd to search for furniture and other items discarded by Pitt students leaving for the semester and were picking through a Dumpster outside Bouquet Gardens on Oakland Avenue when the University police approached, according to the suit.

The officers asked Matheny and his female friend for identification. His friend gave police her name but did not have ID and was placed in handcuffs after police could find no record of her in their system, the suit states.

Matheny took out his cell phone and began recording the incident. Police were able to verify his friend’s identity and she was released but Matheny was arrested for violating the state’s Wiretap Act, said Witold Walczak, ACLU-PA legal director and one of the attorneys representing Matheny.

Matheny was also charged with “possession of an instrument of crime” in regards to his cell phone, Walczak said.

The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office is also named in the lawsuit because Assistant District Attorney Chris Avetta talked to Pitt officers and agreed that Matheny had violated the state statute and authorized the arrest, Walczak said.

In July, a judge dismissed all charges against Matheny.

A message left with University of Pittsburgh police Chief Tim Delaney and with Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. were not immediately returned.

Walczak said the state law is “absolute” in its terms regarding obtaining permission to record people in public but said case law states that public officials — including police officers — are exempt.

“This is a widespread misunderstanding among law enforcement and the staff at the District Attorney’s office,” Walczak said. “If the police are doing something wrong, a citizen has a right to record it. For the same reason the police want cameras on the front of their police cars, citizens should be able to record the behavior and actions of police officers. It’s for everyone’s benefit.”

Walczak said he worries that “dozens of lawsuits” will result in September if police arrest protesters and others recording interactions between them and officers at the Group of 20 summit.

“If there are problems at the G-20 you can bet people will be whipping out their cell phones and recording what is happening,” Walczak said. “The police will have enough going on with people vandalizing and breaking things, and they don’t need to be arresting people who are simply recording them. We need to educate local police before the G-20 or this is going to be a nightmare.”

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Judge: Man Who Gave Pittsburgh Cop ‘Finger’ Didn’t Break Law

March 24, 2009

Federal Lawsuit Claims Flip-Off Gesture Is Protected Speech

PITTSBURGH — A federal judge said a man who flipped his middle finger at a Pittsburgh police officer shouldn’t have been cited for disorderly conduct.

 

David Hackbart, of Pittsburgh, said he made the gesture at another driver while trying to back into a parking space on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill in April 2006.

 

When he heard someone else yelling at him, Hackbart gave the finger again — not realizing that the second person was a police officer.

“While flipping somebody off or using profane language may not be pleasant, it is constitutionally protected speech, especially when it’s uttered towards a public official,” said Vic Walczak, of the American Civil Liberties Union, when he sued on Hackbart’s behalf in September.

 

U.S. District Judge David Cercone filed a 19-page decision Monday, agreeing that the gesture was protected under free speech.

 

Still to be determined at an upcoming trial is whether city police were improperly trained. The ACLU claims city police have filed 188 citations for similar offenses in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

 

 

“The police need to understand that they’re not Miss Manners, they can’t be enforcing nice language, and that it’s inappropriate for them to use the criminal laws to punish somebody because they may use profane language,” Walczak said in September.

Supreme court to decide case on school strip search

January 28, 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether a public school violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old student by conducting a strip search of her for ibuprofen.

The school argued in its appeal that the Constitution allowed a strip search of a student suspected of having prescription-strength ibuprofen in violation of its policy that prohibited medications on campus without permission.

School officials in Safford, Arizona, ordered the search in 2003 of Savana Redding, who was in the eighth grade. Following an assistant principal’s orders, a school nurse had Redding remove her clothes, including her bra, and shake her underwear to see if she was hiding ibuprofen, a common painkiller.

School officials did not find ibuprofen, which is found in over-the-counter medications like Advil and Motrin. Higher doses require a prescription.

The strip search had been prompted by an unverified tip from another girl who had Redding‘s school planner and some ibuprofen pills. She claimed Redding had given her the pills.

Redding denied it and an initial search of her backpack and pockets did not turn up any ibuprofen. The assistant principal then ordered the strip search to be done in front of the nurse and his administrative assistant, both women.

Redding said she was embarrassed, scared and about to cry. She said she felt humiliated and violated by the strip search.

A federal appeals court ruled the school and school officials violated the U.S. Constitution‘s Fourth Amendment right that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

It said alleged ibuprofen possession was “an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one.” Instead of forcing Redding to disrobe, school officials could have kept her in the principal’s office until a parent arrived or could have sent her home.

The appeals court also ruled the assistant principal may be held liable for damages for the search.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the school argued that the ruling has alarmed administrators and teachers around the country.

The decision “places student safety and school order at risk by impairing the ability of school officials to effectively carry out their custodial responsibility,” it said.

Redding’s lawyers opposed the appeal.

“A school official simply cannot order a strip search any time a frightened student points an accusatory finger at another student,” they said.

If the school wins, strip searches could become as prevalent as “the common practice of students tattling on each other,” her lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The case could he heard by the justices in April, with a decision likely by the end of June, a court spokeswoman said.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)