Sharpe v. Winterville Police Department addresses the case of Dijon Sharpe, who was a passenger in a traffic stop where he was threatened with arrest if he continued to Facebook Livestream the stop. In addition to the threat, the officer attempted to confiscate Mr. Sharpe's phone.
Our brief argues that civilian recording of police officers serves the public's vital interest in ensuring that police exercise their power lawfully. Video taken by civilians using cameras and cellphones has on many occasions exposed police misconduct that would otherwise have remained hidden. The making and the use of such videos have spurred action at all levels of government to address police misconduct and to protect civil rights. Civilian recording serves important purposes not met by police dashboard and body cameras.
Further, our brief argues that the First Amendment right to record helps those who exercise it to assert community control over local law enforcement and to influence the national debate on police violence. Civilian recording of police officers improves the fairness and integrity of the justice system. Video can provide critical evidence to civil rights plaintiffs and to criminal defendants, particularly in cases that turn on police credibility. Video helps counterbalance the tendency of many judges and jurors to give greater weight to the testimony of police officers. The well-documented phenomenon of police perjury, or "testilying," makes the need for this corrective imperative. Video is often more reliable than witness testimony even when the witness has no intent to deceive.
Courts should affirm that the First Amendment protects the right to record the police. Civilians recording police officers regularly encounter retaliation. Judicial recognition that such actions violate the First Amendment provides guidance to the police and protection to civilians who record them, and strengthens our democracy.