Concerned that the Baltimore City Police Department routinely violates the First Amendment by threatening citizens who try to photograph or record police encounters, the ACLU of Maryland filed a lawsuit against BPD on behalf of Christopher Sharp, a man whose personal videos, including many of his young son, were deleted after he filmed BPD officers roughing up a female friend of his in the Clubhouse at the 2010 Preakness Stakes.
Video taken of the beating by another observer can be found on YouTube.
The lawsuit details how Sharp was detained and harangued by police officers after he recorded the police incident, with the officers demanding that he surrender his cellphone as "evidence". Sharp politely declined, but police continued to demand that he give up his phone. Fearing arrest, he finally handed over the phone to an officer. The police then destroyed the beating videos and all other videos it contained - about two dozen in all - before returning the phone to Sharp.
The Sharp case was pivotal in spurring the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue an unprecedented legal statement in 2012 on citizens' rights to record police actions. The DOJ guidance to law enforcement agencies across the country affirmed that citizens have a constitutional right to record police officers publicly performing their official duties. Following the DOJ release, the ACLU contacted Maryland law enforcement agencies to notify them, head off future problems, and promote the protection of the rights of citizens as well as public safety.
- Sharp v. BPD settlement
- Revised BPD policy on videotaping police actions
- Joint ACLU/BPD statement
- Signed BPD apology to Christopher Sharp
- VIDEO of Christopher Sharp telling his story
- ACLU letter to the Baltimore City Police
- Legal complaint
- 083111 press release: ACLU Sues Baltimore Police Over Man's Wrongful Detention, Camera Seizure at Preakness
- 072312 press release: ACLU to Police: Seize DOJ Guidance to Make Maryland a National Model for Protecting Citizens' Rights to Record Official Actions
- ACLU letter to statewide police departments re DOJ guidance (example)
- 030813 press statement: Federal Court Rebukes Baltimore Police Lawyers for "Veritable Witch Hunt" Against Man Harassed for Recording Police Incident at Preakness; $1,000 Fine Ordered Paid to Civil Rights Plaintiff for Abusive Litigation Tactics