Does the First Amendment Only Apply to Media? Is There a Right to Record?

Do you have to be a journalist to have First Amendment protections to film in public? Is there a right to record police or other government officials in public? Let me tell you what the federal courts have said…..

To record what there is for the eye to see, or the ear to hear, corroborates or lays aside subjective impressions for objective facts. Hence to record is to see and hear more accurately. Recordings also facilitate discussion because of the ease in which they can be widely distributed via different forms of media. Accordingly, recording police activity in public falls squarely within the First Amendment right of access to information. As no doubt the press has this right, so does the public. See PG Publ’g. Co. v. Aichele, 705 F.3d 91, 99 (3d Cir. 2013); Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 684, 92 S.Ct. 2646, 33 L.Ed.2d 626 (1972) (quoting Fields v. City of Phila., 862 F.3d 353, 359 (3rd Cir. 2017)).

Under the First Amendment’s right of access to information the public has the commensurate right to record—photograph, film, or audio record—police officers conducting official police activity in public areas. Fields v. City of Phila., 862 F.3d 353, 360 (3rd Cir. 2017) (“The First Amendment protects actual photos, videos, and recordings, and for this protection to have meaning the Amendment must also protect the act of creating that material.” (citation omitted)); See also ACLU v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583, 599–600 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 651, 184 L.Ed.2d 459 (2012) (holding that an Illinois eavesdropping statute did not protect police officers from a civilian openly recording them with a cell phone); Turner v. Lieutenant Driver, 848 F.3d 678, 689 (5th Cir. 2017) (“[T]he First Amendment protects the act of making film, as there is no fixed First Amendment line between the act of creating speech and the speech itself.” (quotation omitted); W. Watersheds Project v. Michael, 869 F.3d 1189 (10th Cir. 2017) (agreeing with several sister circuits that recording the conduct of officials in general is protected First Amendment speech); Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 79 (1st Cir.2011) (holding there is an “unambiguous[ ]” constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public); Smith v. Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332, 1333 (11th Cir.2000) (finding plaintiffs “had a First Amendment right, subject to reasonable time, manner and place restrictions, to photograph or videotape police conduct”); Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436, 439 (9th Cir.1995) (recognizing plaintiff’s videotaping of police officers as a “First Amendment right to film matters of public interest”). 

Furthermore, there can be no doubt that the public has the right to record police officers and government officials from the vantage point of standing on their own private property – and indeed, standing in their own front yard, or within their home.

Can the recordings then be seized by police?

Recently, the Fourth Circuit observed in the context of a claim of seizure of cell phone video footage by law enforcement, that we live “[i]n an era in which cell phones are increasingly used to capture much of what happens in daily life” and that such recordings are protected from seizure by law enforcement under the Fourth Amendment. Hupp v. State Trooper Seth Cook, 931 F.3d 307, 329 (4th Cir. 2019).

But, keep in mind, they could still be subject to seizure without a warrant under the exigent circumstances doctrine…..

Police Officer Fired and Charged with Perjury after Deposition

Remember my video with Kentucky Lawyer Chris Wiest about his excessive force lawsuit involving the Kentucky State Police back in March? One of the police officers involved was fired and charged with perjury after he was caught lying in the deposition in Chris’ civil lawsuit.

A former Kentucky State trooper has been criminally charged with perjury after denying under oath that he beat a man with a flashlight in April 2020.

Thomas Czartorski was named in a lawsuit alleging troopers used excessive force against Alex Hornback of Shepherdsville while executing a bench warrant. The lawsuit also alleged that Hornback’s parents recorded the officers beating him, and that a trooper deleted the footage. But a home security video captured the incident. A lieutenant with the Kentucky State Police accused Czartorski in a complaint filed Thursday of lying during a January deposition when he said he didn’t use any force during the arrest. Czartorski turned himself in Friday afternoon at the courthouse on a felony charge of first-degree perjury, according to his attorney, Josh Schneider. The charge carries a penalty of one to five years in prison.

https://kycir.org/2021/07/09/this-former-ky-trooper-denied-using-force-under-oath-the-video-says-he-did/

Here’s a video I uploaded yesterday on it – Freedom is Scary Ep. 67:

“To whom it may concern” letter detailing the fact that it is illegal under federal law to mandate COVID vaccines

Here is a “to whom it may concern” letter for those in West Virginia who are being threatened with, or subjected to, COVID vaccine mandates:

Thanks to Chris Wiest in Kentucky for the assistance in generating the substance of the letter.

Updates on the Drug Task Force Search Case and the Family Court Search Case

On Friday we filed a lawsuit against Putnam County and the individual members of their “SEU” – Special Enforcement Unit – for an illegal search of a family’s residence in Putnam County, West Virginia in April of 2019. These were the same guys from the Dustin Elswick video. Here’s the full complaint (sorry it was omitted earlier, but NOW here it is):

Then this morning we received motions to dismiss from the defendants in the Family Court Judge Search case. Here’s the memorandum arguing for dismissal for the judge, based on judicial immunity, and somewhat surprisingly, the 11th Amendment:

Lastly, here’s the memorandum arguing for dismissal for the county and the deputies, arguing qualified immunity:

We’ll go through these in tonight’s live video update in Freedom is Scary, Episode No. 58. Join me live at 6:30 p.m. ET:

Federal Suit Filed Against Family Court Judge and Deputies for Warrantless Search and Seizure

Yesterday we filed suit against Family Court Judge Louise Goldston of the 13th Family Court Circuit, based out of Beckley, Raleigh County, West Virginia, as well as three deputies with the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, for federal civil rights violations which occurred during the March 4, 2020 search of Matt Gibson’s home following a post-divorce contempt proceeding filed by his ex-wife. If you haven’t been following the case, you can learn more here.

Here’s the full complaint, filed in federal court in the Southern District of West Virginia. It makes claims of violations of the 4th Amendment, 1st Amendment and 14th Amendment. Also a defendant is the ex-wife’s lawyer for conspiracy with a state official to violate Mr. Gibson’s civil rights.

Yesterday night we went over the lawsuit in detail on the YouTube channel in episode no. 50 of Freedom is Scary:

Update on the Jefferson County Superintendent Lawsuit

The first of my two clients in the federal civil rights lawsuit filed yesterday against the superintendent of Jefferson County Schools had her disciplinary hearing today, where the “evidence” was presented of her alleged involvement in the violence at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday. Apparently the only evidence presented was a conspicuously-absent anonymous “report.” According to the attorney at the scene, Bondy Gibson, the superintendent who leveled the accusations, refused to provide a copy of the allegations, the name of the person making the allegation, or any of the social media posts the individual referenced.

Apparently, what actually happened, is that the Board office reviewed Pam McDonald’s social media page and came to the same conclusion that all have, which is that Pam did nothing wrong and broke no laws. Unfortunately, however, the damage has already been done, and our lawsuit will continue. For instance, here’s a screenshot of a TV news story from this morning about my two clients:

Here’s another disgusting media report from WVDM, which was the direct recipient of the leak from the Jefferson County Schools smearing my clients. It announced that my clients “participated in riots in Washington D.C.” Can you imagine, your friendly school bus drivers may have rioted through the Capitol?

In case anyone misunderstood, in the WDVM article above, this was the exact quote:

The statement details that Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson was made aware on Friday of the staff members’ participation that left the Capitol Building in shambles.

It turns out that no such evidence exists, apparently. But what about the smear letter the superintendent wrote yesterday which was provided to WV Metro News, where she said this:

On Friday, January 8, 2021, I received such a report that two employees had posted threatening and inflammatory posts on their Facebook pages, had been present at the Electoral protest march on Wednesday that erupted in violence, and had violated our leave policy.

Wait, first . . . about the leave policy…. how would one go about reporting whether one of your employees violated your leave policy? Do random people have access to your employee personnel files? Or was this “person” who made the report “a friend” of yours. Sort of like the “friend” prefaced in embarrassing Dear Abby letters? Does this friend happen an office in the school administration building with a sign on the door saying something like, “Superintendent?”

Secondly, about the “threatening and inflammatory posts” my clients supposedly made….. Where are they? I’m sure they were just misplaced….. They must exist, right?

If the goal was to drag these ladies through the mud, merely for their political affiliation and viewpoints, I guess it was a job well-done. They received all sorts of well-wishes from the tolerant and compassionate commenters among us. If only someone saved some sort of record of the ugly comments which were directed at my two innocent clients in the comments section of these defamatory pieces….. That would be a great way, not only to document the ugliness of the situation, but also to hold accountable the nasty individuals behind the keyboards who so recklessly and maliciously love to destroy the lives of their fellow human beings, based only on political disagreement.

It would be a shame if some of them ended up getting sued and held accountable for their online bullying….. Just a thought.

Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Violates First Amendment Rights of Two Employees and We Sue

You may have seen in the national news, and on social media, that the Superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, in Jefferson County, West Virginia, decided to come after school employees who attended the Trump Rally on January 6, 2020. At least two employees, both long-time school bus drivers, who attended the rally, and who never entered any prohibited areas near the Capitol, never witnessed violence, never participated in violence, destruction of property, trespassing, etc., were suspended on January 8, 2020, and remain suspended as of this time.

This afternoon we filed a federal Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit against the Superintendent, individually, for money damages. Here’s the filing:

Here’s a live video filmed just after we filed the lawsuit, going over the Complaint:

Also, I’ll be on the Tom Roton Morning Show Tuesday morning at around 7:30 a.m. It’s always a good discussion on hit show…..

Here’s where the school administrators leaked the false allegations against my clients to the TV News, despite it supposedly being a “personnel matter”:

Here’s an article from the WV Metro News, discussing the letter she released today, at about the same time we filed suit.

And here’s the letter itself, doubling down, essentially:

This is a blatant attack on the core of the First Amendment: the right to assemble and protest in a traditional forum of public speech, such as the U.S. Capitol. These clients did not pass into any prohibited area that day. They committed no crime while in Washington D.C. They’re exercise of free speech had absolutely nothing to do with their employment as school bus drivers for Jefferson County Schools. They just so happened to have a political activist superintendent.

Cops ABUSE Walmart Shopper in front of his Crying Toddler

Brand-new police body-cam footage shows an outrageous detainment and arrest of an innocent guy shopping in Walmart with his poor toddler. I break it down, explain some of the relevant law, and show what happened. This couldn’t have gone much worse. Multiple Fourth Amendment violations….. and then there’s Walmart.

Reasonable suspicion is required to perform an investigative detention. Probable cause is required to perform a warrantless arrest. The “Graham Factors” are assessed to analyze the legality of the use of force which occurred. I’d guess the police here will fail miserably on all three.

Federal Lockdown Tyranny Challenge: The Governor files a Motion to Dismiss and Here’s our Response

Update on the Federal Covid Tyranny Challenge: The Governor filed a motion to dismiss our lawsuit, and we responded yesterday. I think Samuel Adams said it best on October 14, 1771:

“The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.”

Here’s the Governor’s motion to dismiss our federal lawsuit on behalf of the Bridge Cafe & Bistro Restaurant, challenging the Stay at Home Order and the Mask Mandate:

Here’s our response we filed yesterday evening:

Chicago PD Search Warrant Video and the Law on Wrong Address Search Warrants and Sloppy Police Work

Police officers with the Chicago PD traumatize a nude woman, who was just minding her own business in her home, which is caught on Video via bodycams. Her lawyer then dismisses her case because he misunderstood the law. Oops. You may have seen this case in the news, but I go behind the headlines and examine the incompetence not reported in the news, and explain what the law is for civil rights lawsuits following search warrant cases where there’s a wrong address and plain ‘ole incompetence.

You have to either allege that the warrant was invalid, or if that can’t be done, you have to attack the affidavit supporting the warrant. To succeed, Plaintiffs must prove Defendants “deliberately or with a ‘reckless disregard for the truth’ made material false statements in [their] affidavit” which were necessary to the magistrate’s finding of probable cause. Miller, 475 F.3d at 627 (quoting Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 155–56 (1978). Or, Plaintiffs must show Defendants omitted “material facts with the intent to make, or with reckless disregard of whether they thereby made, the affidavit misleading.’” Id.

“To determine materiality, a court must excise the offending inaccuracies and insert the facts recklessly omitted, and then determine whether or not the ‘corrected’ warrant affidavit would establish probable cause.” Id. (internal quotations removed). “If the ‘corrected’ warrant affidavit establishes probable cause, no civil liability lies against the officer.”

“Reckless disregard can be established by evidence that an officer acted with a high degree of awareness of a statement’s probable falsity,” meaning an officer had “serious doubts as to the truth of his statements or had obvious reasons to doubt the accuracy of the information he reported.” Id. (internal quotations removed). For omissions, “reckless disregard can be established by evidence that a police officer failed to inform the judicial officer of facts [he] knew would negate probable cause.” Id. (internal quotations removed). However, negligence or innocent mistake “will not provide a basis for a constitutional violation.” Id. (quoting Franks, 438 U.S. at 171).