In September 2015, 25-year-old Phillip Turner decided to test his right to film police officers in Texas. Turner went to the Fort Worth Police Department and began to film cops, who subsequently arrested him for failing to identify himself.
The police held him briefly, and released him without charges, but Turner still sued, alleging that the cops violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights. This week, the 5th US Court of Appeals ruled in Turner's favor in a 2-1 decision.
The court concluded that “a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions." The ruling explained that “filming the police contributes to the public’s ability to hold the police accountable, ensure that police officers are not abusing their power, and make informed decisions about police policy. Filming the police also frequently helps officers; for example, a citizen’s recording might corroborate a probable cause finding or might even exonerate an officer charged with wrongdoing.”
The court also upheld Turner's unlawful arrest claim, which means that the police can indeed be sued for a violation of the Fourth Amendment. "The officers’ handcuffing Turner and placing him in the patrol car, as alleged in the amended complaint, were not reasonable under the circumstances," the court stated.
The dissenting judge on the case, Edith Brown Clement, wrote that the majority opinion jumped the gun because a First Amendment right to film the police "is not clearly established." The court did not uphold Turner's unlawful detention claim, ruling that the police had a reasonable suspicion that Turner could have been “casing the station for an attack, stalking an officer, or otherwise preparing for criminal activity.”