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Philly Cops Don’t Get It, Student Says

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - Philadelphia Police unconstitutionally arrest and maliciously prosecute people for filming officers making arrests, though the Police Department acknowledges that the activity is legal, an arrested student claims in Federal Court.

"Observing police officers' behavior in public is activity protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," the complaint states. "It is not a crime. Nevertheless, notwithstanding a widely publicized department policy endorsing these principles, Philadelphia police officers, due to serious deficits in training, supervision and discipline, have routinely punished civilians who observe or record police activity by filing false criminal charges against them.

Richard Fields sued Philadelphia, its police Officer Sisca, and a John Doe officer, on Thursday, July 24.

Fields, an undergraduate student at Temple University, was arrested in September 2013 for using his iPhone to photograph about 20 officers removing people from a house party near campus.

Fields claims Officer Sisca asked him, "Do you like taking pictures of grown men?"

Upon replying that he was on private property, Fields says, Sisca "bumped Mr. Fields with his chest," then took his iPhone and threw it to the ground, cracking the screen.

Fields was handcuffed and placed in a police van for 20 to 30 minutes, then cited for obstructing justice.

It's the fourth time in less than two years that the ACLU has sued Philadelphia police for arresting people for photographing police activity. The first three were filed in January 2013.

Fields claims the responses of Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and department policymakers have been half-baked attempts to change an embedded culture.

In September 2011, Commissioner Ramsey returned from a conference with other large-city commissioners and issued a memorandum to the department reminding them that the practice of photographing officers is legal.

After more reports of arrests, Ramsey supplemented the memorandum, telling officers that they should expect to be photographed.

Aside from these memos, no further action was taken to change department practice, Fields says in the complaint.

"Notwithstanding this notice, PPD policymakers took no action to remedy the continued failures of police officers to comply with directives providing that citizens have a constitutionally protected right to record officers in the performance of their duties other than providing copes of Directive 145 to be read to officers at roll calls," the complaint states.

"PPD policymakers, including Commissioner Ramsey, are well aware that long directives and other policies are often not read in their entirety at roll call, and are often not read as many times as they are ordered to be read.

"Further, PPD policymakers were aware that merely reading some or all of the directive at roll call was inadequate to change the officers' view that they could arrest citizens who record police - a view that was reported to the commissioner's legal adviser in 2011."

Fields seeks an injunction and punitive damages for violations of the First and Fourth Amendments, retaliation, false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

He is represented by Molly Tack-Hooper with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

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