A man who walked into a Washington courthouse to pick up public records he had requested was aggressively arrested after he refused to turn off his camera, accused of committing a “security breach.”
The video was posted to Tacoma Copblock’s Youtube channel Monday, but the incident took place March 2014, according to the title of the video.
However, nowhere in the video or in the description does it explain how the incident was resolved, if it has been resolved.
There does not appear to be any laws forbidding citizens from walking into a courthouse with a camera recording in any of the courthouses in Washington.
The Pierce County District Court, which should abide by the same rules as the county municipal and superior courthouses, includes a list of “prohibited items” on its site, which includes mostly weapons and illegal drugs, as you can see below.
But no cameras.
While the page states that “items that, in the judgement of security staff and law enforcement personnel pose a threat to the security of the courts may be prohibited in addition to the items included in this list,” it would be interesting to hear how they believe a camera to document your own interaction with a public official poses a security threat.
We can assume they’ll resort to the old “camera could be a weapon” excuse, but if it were true they thought the camera was a weapon, they should shot him multiple times, then carefully handcuff his bullet-riddled body in case he turns into a zombie and attacks them.
So we know that is just a bullshit excuse in the name of “officer safety,” which translates to “officer control of your Constitutional rights.”
So it’s obvious Pierce County law enforcement officers have an issue with cameras, even though there is no stated law prohibiting cameras in courthouses.
Most courthouses have rules that apply to their courtrooms regarding cameras under the argument that they could interfere with a defendant’s right to a fair trial. But Washington does allow cameras in courtrooms for media, but requiring the journalist to make a formal request to the judge, who then uses his or her own discretion whether to allow them or not.
But the lobbies of courthouses have always been viewed differently, so if they really don’t want cameras inside, then they better go through the formalities of creating rules to prohibit this.
However, they probably know that if they try to do such a thing, they will not succeed considering even the Department of Homeland Security conceded a few years ago in a settlement that photography was allowed in building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors or auditoriums for news purposes” of all federal buildings.
So if it works for the feds, who are more anal about security than any local agency, then there is no reason that should not apply in Pierce County.
After all, documenting a public records exchange falls under the “news purposes” requirement outlined by the feds.
The best thing to do in these situations is to ask for the written policy that forbids cameras in the courthouses. If they don’t have one, then they have no grounds to arrest you, even though we know that never stops cops from making unlawful arrests.
In fact, back in March 2014, around the same time this video was recorded, we walked into the Miami-Dade County Courthouse with our cameras to pick up public records. And although we were questioned and told we were violating policy, we were treated with much more respect than the Pierce County sheriff’s deputies treated the man in this video as you can see in the second video below.
The cops who approached me afterwards when we were sitting in the lobby informed me about a policy that forbids cameras in the courthouse. When I asked to see the policy, they gladly showed it to me and I pointed out that the policy applies to commercial photography, not news or personal photography or video recording.
And they seemed to accept that reality without the typical cop denial or drama, so it worked out well for everybody.
I never thought I would say this, but perhaps the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office can take some lessons in professionalism from the Miami-Dade Police Department.
UPDATE: The man in the video responded to a question I posted in the comments section, stating that he had been charged with trespassing, resisting and obstruction. He said the trespassing charge was dismissed and he received a not guilty verdict on the other two charges providing he did not get into anymore trouble during the next six months.
But he should have received the not guilty verdict or charge dismissal with absolutely no conditions because it’s obvious from their charges that he broke no law.