As the technology to easily do so becomes more widespread and accessible, many people around the United States have been filming incidents of police violence against citizens. Although many police officers will try to discourage people from filming them by any means possible, including verbal commands and physical violence, there are no laws that explicitly prevent citizens from recording police actions while they are on duty. The only restrictions on this right tend to involve interfering with crime scenes or obstruction of official duties.

Drunk man beaten in New Orleans

An incident in New Orleans resulted in a suspect being beaten by multiple officers and the assault of nearby news personnel.  The video evidence shows two uniformed police officers along with two other men punching a suspect multiple times as he is being arrested. The suspect was apparently going to be charged with public drunkenness on a Saturday night. Additional videos show the suspect lying on the ground handcuffed in a pool of blood.

Right after this incident, other photos captured another officer having a physical confrontation with a press member who was reporting the arrest and trying to show his credentials.

As a result of their misconduct, the three New Orleans police officers were suspended and charged with battery shortly afterwards.

The right to record and the First Amendment

Police are government employees who are subjected to a certain level of public oversight. Local taxes pay police officer salaries, and this makes them subject to some intrusion and surveillance from members of the general public. Many departments around the country now have police wear body cameras that are turned on at all times while the officers are on duty. This is to produce public records in case any activities come into question. The relevant footage can either justify the officer’s reasons for their behavior or hold them accountable for misconduct.

Like every other state, Louisiana does have some legal precedent that filming, photographing, or recording the police and other government employees is protected under First Amendment expression and freedom of the press. In general, filming is okay as long as the police are on duty and conducting official business such as a traffic stop or making an arrest in a public place. However, people cannot interfere with crime scenes or physically get in the way of police and disrupt them when they are trying to carry out these duties. In other words, if someone is filming alone without bothering or obstructing police activities, this is clearly protected.

Illegal discouragement

Even when someone is legally filming police activity without obstructing officers from their duties, they tend to use tactics such as lying about how such filming is a crime. Sometimes they will try to confiscate and destroy phones or video cameras to make the evidence of their misconduct disappear. Keep in mind that most times that an officer tells someone to stop filing or attempts to steal their cameras or phones, that are trying to cover up their improper behavior. They are also betting on the fact that the person is ignorant of their constitutionally protected rights.

It can also be important to retain personal copies of the footage after an incident. Even when this kind of evidence is formally submitted to a police department as part of an investigation, it may tend to disappear for dubious reasons.

Get help from a police brutality expert in New Orleans

There are police brutality attorneys available in New Orleans who serve the city and other nearby parts of Louisiana. They can provide advice regarding how victims of police violence and misconduct should proceed to protect themselves and file lawsuits if necessary.