Atlanta police officers cannot interfere with people videotaping their actions after a settlement was reached Thursday between the city of Atlanta and Copwatch of East Atlanta. The settlement also calls for a $40,000 payment.
“The APD has shown time and time again that they do not want the public to see what they’re doing,” said Copwatch organizer Vincent Castillenti in a press release. “It’s alarming to see police trying to create a veil of secrecy around their activities, and I think we should all be asking what it is they’re trying to hide.”
According to the complaint, members of Copwatch of East Atlanta were in Little 5 Points on April 22 when they noticed police officers inside the Kloud 9 store with a drug sniffing dog.
As stated on the organization’s website, “Several officers demanded that we stop filming them. When we continued to exercise our right to observe, officer Anthony Kirkman grabbed the cameraperson (Marlon Kautz) and, with the help of other officers, physically wrenched the camera out of Marlon’s hands.
“Officer Taylor informed Copwatch that the footage we recorded would be deleted, and we would have to retrieve the phone from the property release office later.
“When Copwatch tried to retrieve the phone, we discovered that the phone had been improperly classified as ‘evidence’ in a deliberate effort to prevent us from getting access to it. Anthony Kirkman told us that since the phone was password protected, he would not return it to us unless we would enter the password and assist him in deleting the footage we recorded.
“Copwatch refused to cooperate and consulted civil liberties attorney Gerry Weber. Once Kirkman was informed that Weber would be representing us, he reversed his position and returned the phone.
“Once we recovered the phone, we discovered that the original footage had been badly corrupted, almost certainly due to the fact that the police removed the battery from the phone after seizing it, which abruptly aborted the recording.”
“All we were doing was filming the police in a public place, very calmly and peacefully. And their response was to grab me, push me around and steal my camera,” said Marlon Kautz, a member of Copwatch, in a statement.
This settlement is part of the continuing fallout from the APD’s raid on the gay bar the Atlanta Eagle in 2009. The city settled a federal civil lawsuit for $1.025 million. by patrons who had their constitutional rights violated when police illegally searched and detained them.
As part of that settlement, the APD must also not interfere with people attempting to take photos, such as with their cell phones. Eagle lead attorney Dan Grossman, also an attorney who represented Copwatch, said police illegally seized Eagle patrons’ cell phones as one way to ensure their actions were not recorded or photographed.
Grossman worked with Weber on the Copwatch case as well.