(ORLANDO, FL–) It is legal to videotape a police officer in public. Some officers still arrest people for doing it, even though courts keep upholding a citizen’s right. The courts weren’t so friendly to John Kurtz, a 28-year-old Orlando activist, who videotaped a violent police arrest during the first hours of 2011 and wound up being arrested and sent to jail.
The law does not apply when there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. That means you can record a conversation in a public place, even if that person is a police officer. So, Kurtz, the founder of Orlando CopWatch, saw the arrest happening, he pulled out his camera and began recording. One police officer objected, triggering a nightmarish sequence of events for Kurtz that some consider a travesty of justice.
While the judge avoided making this a First Amendment issue, it is difficult not to view it as such. Had Officer Gruler not objected to a citizen taping his actions in public, would there have been a problem? Kurtz claims he had moved back nearly 20 feet while other citizens without cameras moved about freely even closer to the officers.
He was charged with non-violently resisting arrest which leads to the question of why he was arrested. Was it for alerting the officers that he was videotaping them, or was it the act of videotaping them that actually led to his arrest? If it were the latter, Kurtz served 30 days in jail for doing something perfectly legal. If his verbal actions indeed constituted non-violently resisting arrest, did he really deserve a 30-day sentence? Was justice served?