The NYCLU filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD today on behalf of a Brooklyn woman who was arrested and allegedly shoved by cops when she refused to stop filming a stop-and-frisk in her neighborhood in June. Hadiyah Charles, a health policy advocate for marginalized communities who was recognized as a Champion of Change by President Obama, was returning home to her Bed-Stuy apartment on the evening of June 5th when she spotted officers frisking three young men who appeared to be fixing a bicycle on the sidewalk. Charles started filming the cops with her cell phone, which is perfectly legal as long as one doesn't "interfere" with police action. Just don't try telling that to cops.
Charles says that when she asked the officers why the youths were being frisked, she was told it was "police business." After inquiring a second time, officers told her the young men knew why. But they told her they had no idea why they were being patted down. At this point, Charles started taking video of the incident with her smartphone. Noticing this, the officers allegedly told her to step back repeatedly, far beyond any "reasonable distance" from the officers. One of the cops, Pamela Benites, allegedly followed Charles, ordering her to back further and further away, and finally shoved her when she wouldn't stop, according to the lawsuit.
After being shoved, Charles says she asked to file a complaint. Instead, she says she was handcuffed and taken to the 79th Precinct station house, where she was detained in a cell for 90 minutes and then released with a disorderly conduct summons. At point during her detention, she says Officer Benites made derisive comments, including calling her a "street lawyer" and telling her, "This is what happens when you get involved." Fearful that she would be detained longer if she stayed to file a complaint, Charles left the station house with her phone and purse at the first opportunity. According to an NYCLU spokesperson, she eventually lost her phone, and video of the incident disappeared with it.
The disorderly conduct charge against Charles was dropped in October. Her lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the NYPD, and the NYCLU was eager to take legal action on her behalf. "New Yorkers have a constitutional right to film police activity in public,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. “This right is especially important in neighborhoods of color, like Bedford-Stuyvesant, that are the epicenters of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices. It empowers residents to expose abuse policing and hold the NYPD accountable for violating people’s rights.”
NYPD officers have been repeeatedly criticized for violating witnesses' and reporters' constitutional right to document their conduct in public, and NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn says, "The NYPD should be training its officers to respect people’s constitutional right to film police activity in public. Good policing has nothing to fear from citizen oversight. Good policing embraces transparency.”