By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
9:10 PM EST, February 25, 2014
Baltimore County police say they are investigating a weekend confrontation between an officer and a man filming an arrest in downtown Towson, footage of which was posted online and spread Tuesday.
The 2 minute, 24-second video shows Baltimore County officers and Maryland State Police making an arrest as a crowd around them shouts profanities. Officers approach the person filming, telling him that he is distracting them.
When the person filming asks what law he is violating, an officer gets up close and tells him to "shut your [expletive mouth] or you're going to jail."
"I thought I have freedom of speech," the person filming says.
"You just lost it," the officer responds as the camera is jostled and the person recording says he is being pushed.
Elise Armacost, a Baltimore County police spokeswoman, said that state law has established that citizens have a right to film officers on duty and in public places.
"If you're committing some other offense while you're filming, that officer may arrest you," Armacost said. "But we recognize and respect the right of citizens to film officers on duty in public places. It's fairly clear-cut for us."
County Councilman David Marks said he did not want to comment in detail on the situation until the department completes its investigation. But he said he heard from many concerned constituents who feel the video raises questions about citizens' First Amendment rights.
"I have tremendous respect for the men and women who serve Baltimore County," said Marks, a Republican from Perry Hall. "I will say that I've heard from numerous people about this video, and they're looking for answers."
Armacost said the incident occurred at about 1:45 a.m. Sunday, when officers witnessed a "disturbance" among several members of a large crowd in the 400 block of York Road.
She said two people — a male and a female — were arrested and charged with resisting arrest, disturbing the peace, second-degree assault, and drug violations.
Armacost said police do not know who made the video and have not received a formal complaint about it, but she said investigators want to interview him.
"What he has to say could be helpful for us," she said.
She also declined to identify the officer who appears on the majority of the tape, saying the investigation is "in its early stages."
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice weighed in on a lawsuit against Baltimore police, saying that police had to establish clear guidelines affirming the right to record officers.
Around the same time, a man posted a video showing him being told by officers that he was allowed to record, but was loitering and had to move along.
The Justice Department, citing the incident, said that police "should encourage officers to provide ways in which individuals can continue to exercise their First Amendment rights as officers perform their duties, rather than encourage officers to look for potential violations of the law in order to restrict the individual's recording."
On the Towson video clip, the unidentified officer accuses the man recording of "diverting my attention from" the arrest that was being made and threatens to arrest him if he doesn't leave.
Carlos Miller, who runs the website "Photography is Not a Crime," posted the video to his site Monday evening.
"They go after the guy with the camera and accuse him of diverting their attention, only because he has a camera," Miller said. "They don't want to be video-recorded and posted all over the Internet."
Police union officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Armacost said she personally is involved in officer training during which supervisors are instructed that citizens are allowed to film officers.
"We provide training to our people about the fact that we live in a world where cameras are ubiquitous, they're a part of life," she said.
As for the general rowdiness of the crowd that the tape depicts, Marks said complaints about public intoxication are not unusual in college towns.
"I certainly don't think it's by and large an unsafe place for people to frequent," Marks said. "I think we could always use additional police resources in downtown Towson, and as Towson grows, we've got to step up our efforts."
Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.
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