“The public has a right to watch their public servants in action and to record them,” said prominent civil rights attorney Howard Friedman, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of his client, Maury Paulino, 21, in federal court in Boston.
Paulino is seeking unspecified damages from the officers and the city of Boston, which is named as a co-defendant in the suit.
According to the complaint, Paulino recorded officers outside of a Roxbury police station on the night of Nov. 18, 2009 while they were arresting his friend.
Officer Seth Richard arrested Paulino for making the recording and then violently attacked him, the complaint states.
Paulino alleges that Richard punched and kneed him in the face and sprayed him with pepper spray. The other defendants in the suit, Officer Nicolas Onishuk, Officer Richard Davis and Sergeant James Moore, either assisted Richard or did nothing to stop him during the attack, according to the civil complaint.
Paulino did not file a complaint with the police department. The Internal Affairs Division will now review the matter because he has filed a lawsuit, according to standard department protocol, a police spokeswoman said.
Friedman, Paulino’s lawyer, said his client was charged with resisting arrest, assault and battery on a police officer, and disorderly conduct in connection with the incident. He was acquitted of all charges in April, Friedman said.
In a statement, Boston police said that since last year, all officers have received training on the issue of citizens openly recording them with electronic devices, which is permissible under state law.
“The training bulletin created for officers in summary reinforces that public and open recordings is allowed under the wiretap statute,” the statement read. “There is no right of arrest for public and open recordings under this statute.”
In video footage that Paulino shot of the arrest of his friend, Pablo Guerrero, Guerrero can be heard saying “I didn’t do nothing!” and “you got that [on tape], right Naury?”
In the footage, it appears that an officer is taking away Paulino’s cell phone. Then, an officer is heard saying, in an apparent reference to Paulino, “he’s going too.” The footage was posted on the website of Friedman’s firm.
In a statement released by his lawyers, Paulino said he was recording the police officers “to make sure they didn’t hurt my friend.”
“I didn’t expect the police officers would arrest and hit me for recording them,” the statement said.
The city is being named as a defendant for exhibiting indifference to officers’ conduct regarding citizen recordings, making police believe they could arrest people for the practice without fear of punishment, the complaint states.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said his office would not comment on pending litigation.