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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Lawmaker Wants to Shield Police

DALLAS (CN) - A Texas lawmaker received swift criticism after filing a bill that would prohibit citizens from photographing or video recording police officers at work.

Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, filed House Bill 2918 on March 10.

Journalists with traditional radio, television, newspaper and magazine outlets will be able to continue recording or photographing police while they are carrying out their public duties, but other members of the public will not.

The measure criminalizes doing so within 25 feet of an officer and within 100 if the person is armed.

Violators would be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

Reaction on social media was swift, with many critics citing the First Amendment.

Villalba responded to several messages on Twitter, denying that he wants to make filming of police illegal.

"My bill does no such thing," Villalba said on Thursday. "[It] just asks filmers to stand back a little to as to not interfere with law enforcement."

Villalba said he filed the bill because his "brothers/sisters in blue" asked for his assistance.

"I did what I could to help," Villalba said. "I will always stand by the good men and women in blue who sacrifice each day to ensure the safety of my family and yours."

The 5th Circuit has yet to rule on the legality of filming police, but several nonbinding rulings from other federal appeals courts deem the practice legal.

The Boston-based 1st Circuit ruled in 2011 that a man broke no law when he was arrested for holding up a cellphone and recording Boston police punching another man.

The plaintiff, Simon Glik, sued three police officers and the city after he was charged with illegal wiretapping, aiding the escape of a prisoner and disturbing the peace.

A Texas man sued Austin and several of its police officers in Federal Court in 2013 after he was arrested for taking photographs of police performing a traffic stop. Antonio Buehler's lawsuit was dismissed last month when U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane concluded the defendants had qualified immunity because Buehler could not establish a violation of his constitutional rights.

However, Judge Lane stated: "the right to photograph and videotape police officers as they perform their official duties was a clearly established" at the time of the arrests.

That conclusion echoed in Lane's July 2014 opinion in the same case, granting in part and denying in part a motion to dismiss, where he wrote: "a private citizen has the right to assemble in a public forum, receive information on a matter of public concern - such as police officers performing their official duties - and to record that information for the purpose of conveying that information."

If passed, Villalba wants his bill to take effect on Sept. 1.

Follow @davejourno
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