Florida Deputies Were Out of Line, Man Says
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (CN) - Sheriff's deputies arrested a man on a bogus "wiretapping" charge and seized his phone because he filmed one of them during a traffic stop, the man claims in court.
Derrick Ryan Bacon sued Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, deputies Ryan Robbins and Chad Vidrine, Bay County and its Sheriff Office, in Federal Court.
Vidrine, a Bay County sheriff's deputy, stopped Bacon in September 2012 for a traffic violation on a public road.
"Plaintiff lawfully used a cellular phone to video and audio record Vidrine's interaction with and statements to plaintiff while Vidrine was performing these official duties," the complaint states.
"Traffic stops are a matter of great public concern and scrutiny.
"It is not illegal to make such a recording of a public official carrying out his duties in public.
"Plaintiff did not pose a threat to law enforcement or interfere with Vidrine's investigation by making this recording in a reasonable time, place, and manner."
After Bacon acknowledged in traffic court that he had recorded Vidrine, Robbins and Vidrine stopped and interrogated him about the recording, according to the lawsuit.
Bacon says Vidrine arrested him without probable cause, at Robbins' order, after Bacon acknowledged he had made the recording.
Bacon claims the deputies could not find a basis to charge him and eventually "un-arrested" him.
He claims that though they knew he had not committed a crime, the deputies asked the State Attorney's Office to prosecute him for "wiretapping," a felony under Florida law.
Florida makes it a crime to intercept or record a "wire, oral, or electronic communication" in the state, unless all parties to the communication consent. Exceptions include in-person communications when the parties do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the conversation, such as when they are engaged in conversation in a public place where they might reasonably be overheard. Violators are subject to criminal prosecution and civil damages by an injured party.
Bacon claims Robbins and Vidrine seized his cell phone and searched it without a warrant, though they lacked evidence to connect it to a crime.
He claims that any properly trained law enforcement officer would know that citizens have the right to record police officers while they are in public.
In 2011, Boston paid $170,000 to a man who was falsely arrested for recording police officers who were allegedly abusing an arrestee, according to the lawsuit.
Bacon says McKeithen failed to supervise and train the deputies on the public's First Amendment rights to record government officials who are carrying out their duties in public.
In January 2013, the State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Bacon, finding the deputies lacked probable cause to arrest him, according to the complaint.
Bacon says it took the police another six months to return his cell phone, and never notified him of the Attorney's Office's decision.
He claims he suffered months of emotional distress and feared the deputies would hunt him down and arrest him again.
Bacon seeks compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional violations, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
He is represented by Christopher Dillingham II of Plymouth, Fla.
Sheriff McKeithen did not respond to a request for comment.