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Caught on camera: Reporter handcuffed after Denver Police decide HIPAA trumps 1A

Reporter keeps taking pictures after being ordered to stop

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Police body-cam video from the July handcuffing of a Denver journalist was released yesterday (Tuesday). The Colorado Independent’s Susan Greene wrote about this experience shortly after it occurred. Greene was never charged with a crime and was released about 12 minutes later after an officer consulted with someone by phone.

Read The Colorado Independent story on release of the video

In the video, Greene is seen using a smartphone trying to photograph Denver Police officers and a Denver Health ambulance crew dealing with a partially naked man in handcuffs. Greene is on the sidewalk standing near the front of the ambulance and the patient is on the sidewalk a few feet behind the rear of the unit.

In the video above, an officer can be seen physically trying to block Greene from taking pictures. Greene moves around continuing to try to take pictures and raises her hands to try to shoot over the officer. By the time a second officer–wearing the body-cam–walks away from the patient and down the sidewalk Greene has put her phone down to her side. You can then hear Greene being told by the officers, “This is protected by HIPAA. You can’t record.” Greene asks the officers, “There’s a First Amendment, have your heard of it?” The response from the officers is, “That doesn’t supersede HIPAA.”

With her camera down, Greene starts to take a step to the right and forward and is told to “Step away or you will be arrested for interference.” Greene then says “Hold on” and raises her camera again to take a picture of the name plate of the officer who initially blocked her. The officer tries to swat away her camera and says “Step away or you will be arrested for interfering.” At that point police handcuff her.

As always, I am interested in the 1A issues, but my guess is the part of this video that will get the most attention is when the officers tell Greene multiple times to “Act like a lady” as they move her to the police SUV.

Above is the second body-cam video activated when Greene is handcuffed.

Even though the local prosecutor has declined to press charges against the officers for handcuffing and detaining Susan Greene, it’s likely this story is far from over. A police internal investigation is continuing and there are already threats of legal action being taken by the The Colorado Independent.

Across the country, police and others in public safety have been on the losing end of civil suits in similar situations over the last decade. While I always will leave it to people like Curt Varone at Fire Law Blog to discuss the finer points of the law, here are some of the things I’ve learned through the years following similar cases:

  • Taking pictures or video from a public location of something happening in a public location is not against the law
  • HIPAA does not apply to the public
  • HIPAA does not supersede the First Amendment
  • Taking pictures of the name tag of someone in police, fire or EMS is not illegal

There will be many who view the videos saying the reporter got what she deserved and should have followed the direction of the officers. I would make the case that no matter what you think of the news media or this reporter’s actions this incident was instigated by officers not knowing the law. The reason I share these stories and videos is an attempt to keep those in public safety from being on the losing end of an internal investigation, a lawsuit or both.

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