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Beach cops and cameras dont mix

Posted on June 15, 2011 12:00 AM EST

Memorial Day weekend on the beach again resulted in violence and arrests. With the evolution of cell phones has come the ability of civilians to video police actions. Several incidents of police officers seizing or destroying cell phone were reported during the long weekend. The police chief of Miami Beach claimed in a statement that cell phones are taken to preserve evidence and not to cover up police misconduct. Miami criminal defense lawyers who have represented clients arrested on the beach will testify that many arrests occur as a result of innocent civilians video recording police misconduct. According to public records, there have been 11 incidents where police have either arrested individuals for filming police actions or instances when cameras have been confiscated by law enforcement. Records of police abuse regarding videos date back to 2008. Some examples of these conflicts are:

In January 2008, two individuals filmed an ordinary traffic stop. They were forcibly removed from the vehicle, beaten and charged with disorderly conduct. After a thorough investigation, the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office dropped the charges. Later in 2008, a woman filmed a police officer beating a man outside a Miami Beach bar. The police that took her camera were exonerated of theft and battery after an internal affairs investigation was conducted. In 2009, a photo journalist was arrested for taking a picture of an arrest. The police took him into custody and charged him with drunk and disorderly conduct. Yet again, the charges were eventually dismissed. During Memorial Day weekend in 2009, a husband and wife were arrested for disorderly conduct and had their cell phone confiscated because they filmed officers beating a man who had used profanity toward the officers. Charges were again dropped by the state. You can see the ongoing pattern.

The problem got so bad that several people formed a group calling itself Channel 62. One of its members became engaged in a verbal confrontation with Miami Beach offices and was subsequently arrested for driving under the influence "DUI". Another member of the group attempted the video the event, until the camera was seized. The police in turn issued a warning to its officers to use extreme caution when dealing with the group as they were armed with cameras. The department has since implemented a training program which instructs cops when and how they can confiscate cameras. Bear in mind that Miami Beach is not the only jurisdiction that has had issues with cell phone cameras. A Broward County officer was suspended with pay for snatching a woman's cell phone and destroying it during an arrest.

While using a camera is well within one's constitutional rights, a bystander who wants to become involved by filming must be prepared to be arrested. Regardless of the outcome of the case, a trip to jail and attending a bond hearing could certainly be in the cards. If anyone is arrested and falsely accused for simply filming the police, it is imperative to hire a criminal defense law firm quickly so that inquires of the police can be made. In certain instances, internal affairs complaints must filed immediately. The longer the delay in filing the complaint, the less credence it may be given. The state attorney's office must be contacted immediately with the hope that the criminal prosecution can be headed off quickly with a dismissal of the charges. While filming police action is certainly legal, it can be a costly endeavor.

A History of Cops vs. Cameras in Miami Beach, Miami Herald.com, June 14, 2011.

Categories: In General