In response to a number of news reports about rising police aggression, Colorado is now mulling over imposing a $15,000 civil penalty if police officers seize or destroy the recording device of anyone trying to film them in action.
“Primarily, it came up as a result of the number of news reports we’ve been seeing about police officers telling people, ‘Give me your camera,’ or taking the data away, and that is unacceptable conduct,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, a Democrat from Thornton.
Salazar said the proposed measure, HB 15-1290, has bipartisan support and is not intended to punish police officers.
“It takes a very special person to be a police officer,” he said. “We want to honor them, but at the same time, we have a few bad apples who need to be aware that their conduct now has major, major consequences.”
The shooting of 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez particularly caught Salazar’s attention.
As reported by ABC 7, Bobbie Ann Diaz, one of the witnesses to the fatal shooting, immediately went outside her house together with her daughter, Brianna, after hearing gunshots.
“Diaz said an officer stopped her after she left her yard, telling her he would arrest her if she didn’t cooperate.”
Diaz stated, “The officer had me apprehended, he wouldn’t let me go.”
She then went on to yell at Brianna, who was still on the family’s property, to record what was happening as police officers removed Hernandez’s body from the car.
“At that time, (the officers) put Jessie down and they were on their knees yelling at Brianna that she better not record. She better not,” Diaz said, as reported by ABC 7. “She got scared. She got intimated [sic]. These are big officers and she didn’t want to make things worse.”
The Denver Police Department refused to comment regarding the incident, because officials said it was still under investigation at the time.
While Wheat Ridge Police Chief Dan Brennan, a spokesman for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, agrees that citizens have the right to record law enforcement, he said the organization nonetheless opposed the $15,000 fine because there already is an “existing process” in place, and that it’s somehow not appropriate to legislate penalties.
On the other hand, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, taking photos or shooting videos of things that are plainly visible in public is a constitutional right that should be protected, not impeded, by law enforcement.
“[T]hat includes the outside of federal buildings, as well as transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties,” said the ACLU.