For immediate release
Atlanta police officers illegally seized a camera from activists who were filming a drug raid, and sought to destroy the footage. That's the basis of the complaint Copwatch of East Atlanta made against the Atlanta Police Department, and now the department has offered a settlement to avoid a lawsuit.
"All we were doing was filming the police in a public place, very calmly and peacefully. And their response was to grab me, push me around and steal my camera," said Marlon Kautz, a member of Copwatch.
Copwatch is an organization which encourages civilians to film the police in order to prevent abuse and harassment. Recording police activity is constitutionally protected, but these activists found themselves targeted for exercising their rights.
As part of the settlement, APD will be required to institute a policy prohibiting officers from interfering with civilians who film or photograph them in public. They will also have to pay $40,000, which Copwatch will use to fund their work as well as supporting other groups in Atlanta who seek to monitor the police.
This is hardly the first time police have shown hostility towards public monitoring. Last year a woman in the West End was arrested for photographing police brutality in front of her home, and more recently another woman was targeted for harassment after using her cell phone to record an officer using excessive force against a young man in handcuffs.
"The APD has shown time and time again that they do not want the public to see what they're doing," said Copwatch organizer Vincent Castillenti. "It's alarming to see police trying to create a veil of secrecy around their activities, and I think we should all be asking what it is they're trying to hide."
The lawsuit focuses on an event in April of last year when police conducted a raid on a business in Little Five Points and arrested a suspect on drug charges. Members of Copwatch of East Atlanta filmed the raid from nearby. Upon realizing he was being filmed, Officer Anthony Kirkman ordered Copwatch not to film him. When Copwatch continued filming, Kirkman along with other officers grabbed Marlon (the cameraperson) and physically wrestled the camera away from him.
Kirkman later refused to return the camera unless Copwatch would assist him in deleting the footage of the raid. Kirkman ultimately surrendered it out of fear of legal action, but when Copwatch recovered the footage, it was damaged and unplayable.
A full video report of this incident is available on the Copwatch of East Atlanta website:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution coverage: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/apd-wont-hinder-citizens-who-videotape-cops/nQqY9/