Right to Record Police

ACLU Files Lawsuit On Behalf of Ohio Man Who Was Arrested For Recording Police

recording police
A protester uses her phone to make a video of the proceedings during another night of protests over the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. September 24, 2016. (Reuters/Mike Blake)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is suing the Columbus, Ohio police for arresting a 35-year old man while he was recording six officers serving a search warrant in his neighborhood. 

The event took place on April 24, 2019. According to the complaint, Nick Pettit was on his front porch when around six members of a Columbus Police SWAT team forced some of his neighbors from their home. Pettit used his cell phone to record the officers mistreating his neighbors, including one officer who smacked a “compliant teenage grandson on the face.” 

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The officers told Pettit to stop filming, but he refused. The officers responded by confiscating his phone and arresting him. Petit was in jail for five days before he was charged with interfering with an officer’s duties at the scene of an emergency. 

Though the charges were eventually dropped on the basis of “insufficient evidence,” Pettit’s lawyers claim that the arrest caused him to miss a crucial job opportunity, and that he suffered long-term trauma. 

The complaint was filed on January 11th in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. 

“Mr. Pettit had a right to not just observe, but also to record and criticize police mistreatment of his neighbors. This all occurred in a public space. When they suppressed his speech, the Columbus Police effectively said to him and his community, ‘We have impunity; we may abuse you without consequences.’ Nick is standing up to correct that,” Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement shared with The Columbus Dispatch

The Columbus Dispatch