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Newark Police Settles Lawsuit Over the Arrest of Teen with Cellphone Video

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Police in the USA City of Newark have settled a lawsuit after one of their officers deleted a video file from a cameraphone following an incident in March 2010.

In addition to the settlement, Police Director Samuel A. DeMaio has issued a training memorandum that affirms the rights of citizens to record police officers performing their duties and makes clear that officers cannot confiscate, delete, or demand to view a citizen's photos or video without a warrant.

Khaliah Fitchette, a Newark teenager was riding a public bus after school on the afternoon of March 22, 2010. When the bus rolled down a hill, a seemingly intoxicated man fell from his seat and into the aisle, creating a scene. The driver pulled over and called Newark Police for assistance. Fitchette, who habitually used her phone to record or take photographs, began recording the incident. When the police arrived, an officer ordered Fitchette to stop recording and turn off the phone.

Fitchette stopped recording, but refused to turn off the phone to avoid missing any calls from her mom. The officer grabbed Fitchette by the arm and pulled her off the bus. One officer seized her phone and deleted the video. The police handcuffed and detained Fitchette for more than an hour, ignoring her pleas to call her mother. They finally dropped a tearful Fitchette at her mother's workplace.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey took up the case and sued the police, alleging the officers violated her constitutional rights to free expression. The lawsuit also alleged the search and seizure of Fitchette's phone was illegal.

"We are pleased that the Newark Police Department has adopted a policy that clearly articulates and respects the constitutional rights of citizens to record police activity," said Seton Hall Law Professor Barbara Moses, who, along with a number of Seton Hall Law students, represented Fitchette as a cooperating attorney for the ACLU-NJ. "We hope this policy prevents incidents like the one involving Khaliah Fitchette from ever happening again."

Alexander Shalom, Policy Counsel for the ACLU-NJ, said other departments should follow Newark's lead.

"With video technology so prevalent now, police officers have to clearly understand exactly what rights citizens have when they film in public," said Shalom. "Newark's policy makes clear distinctions about citizens' rights, and every law enforcement department in New Jersey should adopt these kinds of guidelines."

Recognizing the importance of taping police officers in public, the ACLU has challenged illegal police confiscations of cameras, which has become more prevalent across the country, including in New Jersey.

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Tags: cameraphone  police  USA