Boston Cop Allegedly Grabbed Phone From Person Recording Arrest

In Massachusetts, filming the police in action isn't illegal.

Image via YouTube

Image via YouTube

A motorist traveling through the city who happened upon an arrest in progress alleges a Boston Police officer took away his phone and damaged it after the cop caught him recording the incident. In Massachusetts, it’s legal to record officers in public.

According to a YouTube user—he was identified as “Max Bickford” on the site “Photography Is Not a Crime”—who uploaded the footage on October 15, after the arresting officer allegedly “slammed” the suspect into the street “right in front” of him, he approached Bickford and snatched his phone from his hands, claiming that it contained “evidence of a crime.”

At that point, the video stops recording, but the confrontation with the officer reportedly continued.

“Then the officer refused to give my phone or his name to me. He threw my phone back at me resulting in damage to my property. He also wiped his blood on me on purpose. I was then detained illegally,” Bickford claimed in the details posted to YouTube about the interaction with the policeman.

In the video, a suspect can be seen on the ground, near the spilt where drivers can gain access to the Pike or Interstate 93, with his shirt pulled over his head. The context and reason for the suspect’s apprehension is unclear, but in the footage the officer repeatedly says to Bickford, who stopped his moped in the middle of traffic to record the situation, “thanks for your help” in a sarcastic tone. After moving the suspect to the curb, the officer then confronts Bickford.

A call made to the Boston Police about the incident with Bickford was not immediately returned. Bickford also didn’t return a request for comment when reached through his YouTube account on Wednesday.

However, recording the police in a public setting, when a phone or other device is in full view, is not illegal in Massachusetts, and the law is on the side of the person behind the lens.

According to the state’s wiretap statute, secretly recording any oral communication is frowned upon, but a court recently ruled that people have a constitutional right to openly use a device to film incidents such as a police activity in a public area, so long as they aren’t interfering with an officer’s duties.

That constitutional right was made apparent following a settlement reached in 2012 between a lawyer and the Boston Police Department. At that time, the city was told to pay Simon Glik $170,000 after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that Glik did not violate the law when he pulled out his phone on Boston Common five years prior to record officers in a scuffle with a suspect in the park. The court said it was Glik’s constitutional right to capture the incident, setting a precedent for similar instances in the future.

“Under the First Circuit’s Glik [versus] Cunniffe decision, whose holding was just again reaffirmed this year in Gericke [versus] Weare, individuals have ‘a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public,’” said Christopher Ott, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the organization that backed Glik after he was charged for violating the state’s wiretapping laws. “This encompasses the ‘peaceful recording of an arrest in a public space that does not interfere with the police officers’ performance of their duties.’ As the court held, this right ‘is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.'”

The video of the recent altercation between Bickford and police can be seen below: