Offending officers: James Brooks and Adam Paulsen
Susan Greene, Editor of the Colorado Independent, was driving along near the Colorado State Capitol building on the afternoon of July 5 when she noticed Denver police surrounding a nearly naked black man sitting handcuffed on the sidewalk, and stopped to see what was happening.
Greene is an investigative reporter who has written extensively about police brutality and incidents in which black men have been killed by law enforcement while in custody, and she wanted to document how police were treating this man, who as it turns out, did nothing illegal, but was likely the victim of a crime.
when Greene approached the scene she was immediately blocked by Officer James Brooks. Brooks blocked her from recording the scene
"It's our job to not take no for an answer when ‘no’ is illegal," Greene said. “I don’t think we should stop taking photos when we are told unlawfully to do so.”
Officer Brooks and officer Paulsen both told her that she was in violation of HIPAA laws, and that if she didn't leave, she would be arrested for interfering, which is precisely what they did, while telling her to “act like a lady.” Her attorney later said, “How exactly should a lady act when being wrongly detained on a public sidewalk for exercising First Amendment rights?”
During the arrest, they twisted her arms up behind her back, and she protested that they were hurting her, but they told her that she was causing her own pain, not them. It appears that after conferring with a Sergeant, the officers were informed that what they did was unconstitutional, or at least that Ms. Greene had not violated any laws. She was then released from the back of the patrol car. Footage shows that once Greene is released from the police car, she and the officers had a brief exchange in which she asks for their badge numbers and in typical fashion, the cops then demanded she show them her press badge.
In regards to the HIPAA law. Mari Newman, a lawyer for Greene and The Independent said,
“HIPAA does not apply to an individual on the street. It’s designed to protect private medical information — for example, information that a medical provider or an insurance company might have about a patient. HIPAA does not impose any obligations on a private individual walking around on the street.”
The Denver police later released a statement that said in part,
“The Denver Police Department respects the First Amendment rights of all individuals,”
According to the video though, this does not appear to be the case.
On July 10, five days after this incident, the department said it issued a “training requirement” to review First Amendment-related policies. On August 16, the department also published a training bulletin related to First Amendment policies.
The bulletin reiterates the right of the public to record police activity, so long as the person is in a public place where they are legally allowed to be present, are not placing themselves or anyone else in danger, and do not “materially interfere” with police conduct.
Officers, under the DPD guidelines, shall not, “threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage from recording” such individuals, and neither will officers “detain or arrest the individual,” the bulletin states.
No charges for officers
District Attorney Beth McCann last week called Greene to inform her that the D.A.’s office would not be pressing charges against the officers.
Greene detailed the call in a post last week:
(McCann) said a charge of false imprisonment wasn’t an option because there’s an exemption for cops. And she said her office likely would have a tough time convincing a jury that Brooks assaulted me.
I asked McCann about her take on the incident beyond the question of criminality. “I don’t know that he knew you were a journalist, for one thing,” she said. “But people are entitled to take pictures as long as people are not” getting in the way of police. She added that Brooks’ “act like a lady” comment “was a little unnecessary.” And she said we’ll likely be hearing something from Hancock’s administration now that she has made her decision not to prosecute.
Attorneys for Ms. Greene and the Independent have said that they are considering legal action against the officers and the Denver PD.
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