The Connecticut state Senate passed legislation last week that would hold police officers in the state personally liable for violating a citizen's First Amendment right to videotape their actions. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Eric Coleman (D-Bloomfield).
According to The Day, a Connecticut newspaper, Coleman cited the 1991 Rodney King beating as an inspiration for the legislation. The proposal was also prompted by a 2009 incident in which "a Catholic priest was arrested by East Haven police while recording officers harassing Latino business owners." A federal investigation resulted in charges being filed against four police officers.
"Sometimes we become aware of incidents where police officers have been overzealous or abusive and not act in a very complimentary way towards the citizens who deserve to be served and protected," Coleman said.
The Connecticut bill, which still must pass the state's House of Representatives, is part of a trend toward increased legal protection for citizens filming police officers in the line of duty. At least one appeals court has recognized that citizens have a First Amendment right to record the actions of on-duty police officers in public places. But police officers often enjoy "qualified immunity," meaning that liability for police misconduct falls on the city (e.g. taxpayers) rather than on individual officers. Sen. Coleman's proposal would change that, giving police officers a stronger incentive to respect the constitutional rights of Connecticut citizens.