PHOENIX (AP) — A controversial Arizona law restricting how the public can film police faced its first legal challenge Tuesday with a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The group’s Arizona chapter, joined by several Arizona news outlets, filed a petition in the US District Court. They argue that the law criminalizes First Amendment freedoms.
“This law is a violation of a vital constitutional right and will seriously frustrate attempts to hold police accountable. It must be reversed before it causes irreparable harm to the community,” the ACLU wrote in a statement. on his blog.
In the complaint, the group argues that the law not only has “glaring constitutional problems”, but is too ambiguous in parts. They are asking for an injunction prohibiting law enforcement and others from enforcing the law.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Maricopa County Attorney General Rachel Mitchell, and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone are all named as defendants.
Brittni Thomason, a spokeswoman for Brnovich’s office, declined to comment because the office had not received a copy of the complaint. Neither Mitchell nor Penzone immediately responded to messages seeking comment.
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Bystander cellphone videos are widely credited with exposing police misconduct — such as with the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers — and reshaping the conversation about police transparency. But some Arizona lawmakers say legislation is needed to limit people with cameras who deliberately obstruct officers.
The law, signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in July, prohibits knowingly filming police officers 2.5 meters or less without an officer’s authorization. An officer can order someone to stop filming even if they are recording on private property with the owner’s consent if an officer finds them interfering or deems the area unsafe.
The penalty is a misdemeanor that would likely result in a fine without jail time.
It was designed by Republican State Rep. John Kavanagh, a former police officer, who argued that officers should be able to do their jobs without interference. The law still allows people to record police activity from a safe distance, he said.
The original legislation has been amended to apply to certain types of police actions, including the questioning of suspects and encounters involving mental health or behavioral issues.
Persons who are the direct object of police interactions are also exempt. They can film as long as they are not arrested or searched. A person in a car stopped by the police or questioned can also film the encounter. Kavanagh said these changes were made with input from the ACLU.
In similar cases, six of the nation’s 12 US appeals courts have ruled in favor of allowing the police to record without restriction. Less than a week after the Arizona law went into effect, the Denver 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a reporter and YouTube blogger’s lawsuit against a suburban police department in Denver could go ahead. The blogger claimed an officer blocked him from recording a traffic stop in 2019.
The Phoenix Police Department, which oversees the nation’s fifth-largest city, has come under fire in recent years for its use of force, which disproportionately affects black and Native American residents.
Journalists and photographers say this law will make it nearly impossible to do their jobs, especially during massive events like protests. Outlets that are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Phoenix Newspapers Inc.; gray television; ScrippsMedia; KPNX-TV; Fox television stations; NBC Universal Media; Arizona Association of Broadcasters; States Newsroom; Arizona Newspaper Association; and the National Association of Press Photographers.
“We are concerned that, rather than acting as a shield to ensure ‘officer safety,’ this law will serve as a sword to abridge the ‘clearly established’ First Amendment right to videotape police officers performing their duties. officials in public,” Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said in a statement.