The ACLU has sued the District of Columbia and two police officers for allegedly seizing the cellphone of a man who photographed a police officer allegedly mistreating a citizen, and for then stealing his memory card.
The suit, filed in federal court (.pdf) in Washington, D.C., alleges that the police officer violated Earl Staley, Jr.’s First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights by improperly searching and seizing his property while he was exercising his right to photograph the police performing their duty.
The incident occurred July 20 when Staley, on his way to a bus stop with a friend, pulled out his phone to record police after he saw an officer hit a man on a motorbike. Two police officers then allegedly punched the man on the ground as he bled.
Staley pulled out his phone to take photos when police also allegedly began “chest bumping” bystanders who would not leave the scene.
Officer James O’Bannon seized Staley’s smartphone from his hand when he saw Staley take a photo of another officer and told Staley that he had broken the law in photographing the officer, according to the complaint. O’Bannon told Staley he was seizing the phone as evidence and threatened to arrest Staley if he didn’t leave the scene.