The City of Philadelphia has agreed to pay $250,000 to two people who claimed that police officers violated their First Amendment rights by blocking them from taking photos of police activity.
The settlements, announced Tuesday, ended years of legal wrangling over civil suits filed on behalf of Amanda Geraci, a local activist, and Richard Fields, formerly a Temple University student. The ACLU of Pennsylvania, which brought the claims for the pair, said it hoped their cases served as a “warning sign” against those who would seek to prevent recordings of cops.
“The best tool for police accountability available today is the smartphone in someone’s pocket,” Molly Tack-Hooper, an ACLU staff attorney, said in a statement. “We’re grateful to our clients for enduring years of litigation to protect this vital First Amendment freedom.”
The decision to settle the lawsuits is the latest ripple in a protracted, nationwide legal battle over whether citizens have a constitutional right to record the police — and perhaps the latest example of how that pendulum has largely swung in favor of the public.
City spokesman Mike Dunn said in a statement that the Police Department established a directive in 2012 allowing citizens to record officers on the job in public. He also said the decision to settle the cases from Geraci and Fields “was in the best interests of the city,” though he did not elaborate.
The Police Department has earned plaudits in recent years for its handling of large-scale events and demonstrations, and the city recently pledged to expand the use of police body-worn cameras.
Geraci and Fields had filed separate but similar claims for interactions that occurred several years ago.
Geraci, a self-described legal observer and member of a police watchdog group called Up Against the Law, said she had been attempting to take pictures of an officer arresting a protester at the Convention Center in 2012 when another officer pushed her up against a pillar and restrained her.
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