The Judiciary Committee forwarded a bill to the state Senate Friday that would give individuals the ability to bring a civil lawsuit against police officers who interfere with their ability to videotape or photograph officers on the job.
State Sen. Martin Looney D-New Haven, first introduced the bill in 2011 on the heels of two disturbing incidents:
—the 2009 arrest of New Haven priest James Manship by East Haven cops for his video-recording their alleged harassment of Latino shopowners, and;
—the 2010 arrest of Luis Luna, who recorded an arrest on a public street.
The bill passed the Senate in both 2011 and 2012 but failed to receive a vote in the House both years. In a phone interview Sunday, Looney said the House ran out of time to bring up a bill that would have been a “talker.” He said he hopes this year they will bring up the bill in a more timely fashion.
Looney believes there’s a greater degree of comfort with the bill this year given all of the publicity surrounding the issue.
Since last legislative session there have been other incidents. Jennifer Gondola, an Ansonia woman, was arrested last summer by police after refusing to turn over her cellphone. Gondola had captured a police officer allegedly beating an unruly clubgoer. Gondola’s arrest was eventually thrown out and the police officer she captured on her iPhone was suspended for 15 days for violating department rules and standing on the handcuffed suspect’s neck.
The legislation by all accounts is a watered-down version of Looney’s initial 2011 proposal because it includes exemptions for police officers. Individuals can’t bring a lawsuit if the officer is protecting public safety, enforcing a municipal ordinance, preserving the integrity of a crime scene, and safeguarding privacy interests.
“Folks have bent over backwards in that the exceptions almost swallow the rule,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said Friday.
He said he thinks it’s good public policy to say as a general rule that “as long as you’re not interfering with police” you should be able to photograph or videotape police officers.
But other lawmakers disagreed.
Rep.Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, said the bill will “dramatically increase the amount of litigation police officers are going to face”.
“It’s going to have unforeseen consequences to our law enforcement,” O’Dea said.
More and more officers will face civil lawsuits if they ask individuals to stop capturing a crime scene or an arrest with their cellphone cameras, he concluded.
Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, said as a police officer for 24 years this legislation will personally impact him.
He said that even though there are exceptions to video-recording, the public is “not going to see the fine print.” He said the public will feel empowered by the law and that will create a problem for police officers.
“At the end of the day I don’t think it’s anyone’s intention in this legislature to compromise the safety of our police officers, but that’s exactly what this bill does,” Verrengia said.
“Police officers don’t like anyone coming up to them and pointing anything in their direction,” Verrengia said explaining that some cellphones can shoot projectiles.
But Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, defended the legislation.
He said Verrengia’s scenario can happen now.
“At least this bill has some parameters around it that would establish things that might make us safer,” Holder-Winfield said.