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Friday, August 14, 2009

ACLU Sues Prosecutor

ACLU Sues Prosecutor for Charging Kids With Recording Talk With Cops on Cell Phone
The Associated Press - August 14, 2009

PITTSBURGH, PA - The ACLU is suing the Allegheny County District Attorney's office, saying it wrongly charged a man with violating state wiretap law for recording police with a cell phone. The suit says Elijah Matheny, of Pittsburgh, and his friend had been looking for items discarded by University of Pittsburgh students leaving for the semester in April. School police asked Matheny's friend for identification as Matheny recorded the incident. An officer arrested Matheny for recording police without permission after checking with the prosecutor's office. A judge dismissed the charge in July. The ALCU says the First Amendment guarantees people a right to record police in public places. The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.


ACLU says Pa. man wrongly charged in wiretap case / The Associated Press by Dan Nephin - August 13, 2009

PITTSBURGH, PA - The Allegheny County District Attorney's office wrongly charged a man with violating state wiretap law for recording police with a cell phone, the American Civil Liberties Union claimed in a federal lawsuit Thursday. The ACLU said law enforcement agents in Pennsylvania, Allegheny County in particular, have been misapplying the wiretap law. "Unfortunately, many Pennsylvania law enforcement officers don't understand that the courts have said the state wiretapping law cannot be applied to punish people for recording police actions in public," Glen Downey, an attorney involved in the suit, said in a statement. The suit was filed on behalf of Elijah Matheny, of Pittsburgh, in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. It seeks unspecified damages, claiming police violated his civil rights.

According to the suit, Matheny and a friend were looking in a trash container for useable items thrown out by University of Pittsburgh students leaving for the semester in late April. A university property manager called police, who asked Matheny and his friend for identification. Matheny presented his, but when his friend said she didn't have any, police handcuffed her briefly while they checked her name. Matheny made an audio and video recording of the incident. An officer arrested Matheny for recording his voice without permission, the suit said. While Matheny was being held in a university holding cell, the officer checked with the district attorney's office, where an on-duty district attorney advised that Matheny had broken the wiretap law. In July, a judge dismissed all charges against Matheny, who also was charged with possessing an instrument of crime , the cell phone. Mike Manko, a district attorney's office spokesman, denied a claim in the suit that the office has a policy of advising officers to charge people who make audio recordings of police. But he said the office would have no further comment until it reviewed police reports from the case. Witold "Vic" Walczak, the ACLU's legal director in Pennsylvania, said the problem is surprisingly widespread, citing complaints in York, Philadelphia and suburban Pittsburgh. Walczak expects demonstrators at the Group of 20 global economic summit in Pittsburgh in September to use cell phones to record police. "Police have every right to arrest people if they destroy property or block passage, but police need to understand that they cannot arrest people simply for putting them on candid camera," he said.

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