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Student charged with wiretapping after livestreaming meeting at Maryland Rep. Harris' office, prosecutors say

and The Baltimore Sun

A Salisbury University student has been charged with illegal wiretapping after prosecutors said he streamed a meeting with a congressional staffer for Maryland Rep. Andy Harris via Facebook Live without permission.

Jake Burdett, 20, was charged last week with two felony counts of making an illegal recording and distributing the video filmed during a Maryland Marijuana Justice rally at Harris’s Salisbury office in October, the state prosecutor’s office announced Thursday.

Marijuana legalization protesters have long tangled with Harris, who in 2014 worked to block full legalization of the drug in the District of Columbia. A protest outside the Republican’s Capitol Hill office last year led to the arrest of two demonstrators on charges of consumption of marijuana in a prohibited public space.

Burdett expects to plead plead guilty in Wicomico County on March 1 to one count of illegally taping and broadcasting, his attorney, Mark Goldstone, said Thursday.

State prosecutors allege Burdett and other advocates at the Salisbury rally agreed to meet with a congressional staffer in his office, which could only seat a few people. When another member of Harris’s staff noticed several people on their phones, the group was told they were not allowed to record because of an office policy, the state prosecutor’s office said in its news release.

Burdett confirmed in an email Thursday that he continued to stream the meeting on Facebook Live without the staffer’s consent but said he was not aware it was against the law and deleted the footage the following day after finding out it was illegal, he said.

“We need to ensure people are respecting boundaries set by Maryland’s wiretapping laws,” said State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt in the release.

Under an agreement expected to be finalized on March 1, Burdett would plead guilty to one count and receive community service and probation, Goldstone said. The case would be dropped in three years if Burdett complies with all the terms, Goldstone said.

Burdett said he was upset that citizens and constituents are not allowed to record conversations with paid staffers of public officials in a taxpayer-funded space.

“It saddens me that Rep. Harris has decided to needlessly drop the hammer to make an example out of me over a mistake I quickly corrected and apologized for,” Burdett said in an email.

Goldstone said the law governing such activity should be revisited.

“There should be a public policy exception to the law,” he said. “This should not be a felony violation.”

Harris’s office said it does not comment on active investigations.

Burdett said he hopes the charges will not distract from Maryland Marijuana Justice’s mission.

Last year, Rachel Donlan — also an advocate for marijuana law reform — alleged Harris bruised her leg by slamming an office door during a demonstration and damaged her reputation by suggesting she initiated a physical confrontation.

But the congressman’s office said Donlan and another protester “sought to forcibly enter the office” as Harris entered through a private door, “bruising his wrist as they tried to force the door open.”

Donlan was charged with consumption of marijuana in a prohibited public space. But the case was dismissed after she agreed to stay away from the congressman’s office for three months, said Goldstone, who also represented her, on Thursday.

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