The suit said Felecia Anderson, 24, was living in the West End on Oct. 14, 2009, when she saw APD officers raiding her neighbor’s home. When she also saw officers kicking and dragging a man, she went home and got her camera.
As Anderson filmed the incident from the sidewalk, officers ordered her to stop, threatening to arrest her, the suit said. Anderson complied and began walking back to her house.
One of the officers came up behind Anderson and demanded that she turn over her camera, and he seized it when a startled Anderson dropped it on the ground, the lawsuit said.
The officer, identified in the lawsuit as Jeffrey Branum, then deleted close-up photos Anderson had taken of the incident, and Anderson’s neighbors witnessed him doing it, the suit said. Officers then placed Anderson under arrest for having no driver’s license, walking in a roadway and disorderly conduct. Those charges are still pending against Anderson, who now lives in New York.
“Documenting police activity in a public space is not a crime,” said lawyer Albert Wan, who represents Anderson. “In fact, it’s a constitutional right and a well-established one at that.”
APD spokesman Carlos Campos said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
“I can tell you, however, that the department has passed a policy prohibiting officers from interfering with a citizen’s right to film our activities in public,” Campos said. Police Chief George Turner “has personally emphasized to department supervisors the importance of adhering to this policy.”
APD’s policy covers audio and video devices and cameras. Officers are prohibited from interfering with a person’s right to record police activity so long as the recording does not physically interfere with the performance of an officer’s duties, the policy states.
The policy was adopted after the APD reached a $40,000 settlement in February with Copwatch of East Atlanta over complaints an officer had confiscated a camera from a member of the group, which films police activity with cellphones and hand-held cameras.
Anderson’s suit seeks “nominal and modest” compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages.
“If the city is truly interested in transparency and accountability, [it] should compensate Ms. Anderson and fully investigate the officers responsible for violating her constitutional rights,” said Gerry Weber of the Southern Center for Human Rights and another one of Anderson’s lawyers.