Can I Film the Police if They Say No?
[WITH VIDEO, keep reading!] Unless on private property or in a secure government area, you can film the police. For whatever reasons, many cops don’t like it. Some will ask you to stop while a few will resort to false arrest, tasers and use of force.
Before we continue, we remind everyone to make sure you are on solid ground before filming the police. If you are on a public road or sidewalk, you should be fine. Try to film in a military base, inside a jail or a private hospital and the rules may be much different.
You also can’t get so close to an officer or active scene that you are obstructing. Sticking a camera in a cop’s face while she is arresting someone is going to get you locked up for obstruction. Ditto if you are being lawfully detained and attempt to interfere. It’s one thing to film a police interaction with someone else but if the police are attempting to arrest you for a crime other than filming, pulling out your phone to film may result in a valid obstruction charge.
What Happens if the Police Illegally Arrest Me for Filming Them?
In August of 2020, Marco Puente was illegally arrested and pepper sprayed by two officers with the Keller Police Department (Texas). His “crime”? Filming his son was being detained by a Keller Police Officer.
While Officer Blake Shimanek was trying to find narcotics on Puente’s son, Marco Puente was across the street filming the incident on his phone. Shimanek then directed another Keller police officer, Ankit Tomer, to arrest the father.
According to a lawsuit filed in federal court,
“As Officer Tomer approached Mr. Puente, Mr. Puente attempted to speak to Officer Tomer regarding Officer Shimanek’s order to arrest him. Mr. Puente did not resist Officer Tomer, but simply questioned why he was being arrested as Officer Tomer grabbed his right wrist.
“Officer Shimanek then approached and used excessive force against Mr. Puente by grabbing his other arm, attempting to knock his phone to the ground which Mr. Puente had been using to film Officer Shimanek, placing Mr. Puente in a headlock, pulling Mr. Puente to the ground, getting on top of Mr. Puente, and then ordering Officer Tomer to spray Mr. Puente in the face and eyes with OC spray, which Officer Tomer did, twice.
“After assaulting and handcuffing Mr. Puente, Officers Shimanek and Tomer refused to wipe away the OC spray from Mr. Puente’s face and eyes, despite the obvious pain Mr. Puente was experiencing. In what can only be described as cruel and inhumane conduct intended to prolong Mr. Puente’s pain, Officer Shimanek refused to provide Officer Tomer with a towel for Mr. Puente when Officer Tomer asked for one, simply responding “not to give him.” Officer Shimanek then directed Officer Tomer not to wait for medics for Mr. Puente, but instead to transport him to the jail, further delaying medical treatment and allowing the OC spray to continue burning his eyes and face.”
If there is any saving grace to this story, Shimanek and Tomer’s superiors immediately realized that their officers had no probable cause to arrest Mr. Puente and ordered him released. They also apologized for the incident.
Mario Puente later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in federal court. He claims the officers used excessive force, performed an unlawful arrest, and were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs following the use of pepper spray.
Was Puente treated the way he claims in his lawsuit? The city never filed an answer to the complaint. Instead they settled and paid Puente $200,000. Sgt. Blake Shimanek resigned from the force in 2021 and was indicted for his actions against Puente.
Were You Wrongfully Arrested or Harmed While Trying to Film a Police Officer?
Citizens have a right to film the police as long as it doesn’t interfere with the officers’ duties or involve filming on private property or in a secure area. Even on private property, the officers should give a warning before making an arrest. According to Puente, he was across the street, on public property and given no warning.
Police misconduct claims must be made within legal time limits (statute of limitations). This is usually a very short period of time, between one and two years in most cases. Government entities often have special rules (“tort claim” deadlines) that may be as short as 60 days.
In police misconduct cases, time is not on your side. Evidence can be tampered with or disappear, witnesses can forget the details of what they saw, and officers have more time to cover their tracks. Your attorney's investigators need to act fast if you want to see good results.
There is almost no reason for police to arrest someone for making a video of a traffic stop. Bad cops and police departments that try to prevent you from filming are usually breaking the law and should pay for their misdeeds. This is especially true if you are injured.
Jail Death and Injury Law has the national structure and deep resources to get to the bottom of any police misconduct investigation. We have developed a unique process for maximizing claims and finding the culprits.
We look forward to using our proven strategy to find out exactly what happened to your loved ones and to get them the justice they deserve. To learn more, visit our police misconduct claims page. Ready to see if you have a case? Connect Online or by phone at 866.836.4684.
Body cam video of illegal arrest and assault of Marco Puente