After editor’s handcuffing, CFOIC and journalist groups urge 1st Amendment training for police

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

“Deeply concerned, dismayed and disappointed” by the detention of Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene last week while she photographed police officers, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and two journalist associations are urging the Denver Department of Public Safety to institute intensive First Amendment training for its employees.

“A citizen should be free from interference from police officers in the lawful exercise of his or her First Amendment and statutory rights to record in a public space the conduct of a public official,” says a letter sent Monday to Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen, Manager of Public Safety Troy Riggs and City Attorney Kristin Bronson.

The letter was written by CFOIC board member Marc Flink, an attorney with BakerHostetler, on behalf of the coalition, the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association.

In a column published Friday in The Independent, Greene wrote that she stopped near the state Capitol the previous day upon seeing police officers with a naked, handcuffed man seated on the sidewalk. When she started shooting pictures of the scene with her iPhone, Greene recounted, a police officer “got in my face and told me to stop.”

(Photo: The Colorado Independent)

She explained her First Amendment right to take photos on a public sidewalk, but the officer “grabbed me and twisted my arm in ways that arms aren’t supposed to move.” Greene wrote that she was accused of blocking the door of an ambulance (which she denies), then handcuffed, put into the back seat of a police car and released after about 10 minutes.

According to The Associated Press, Denver police have launched an internal investigation into the incident.

Flink’s letter notes that the right of a citizen to photograph or video record police in public spaces “clearly is protected” under the First Amendment, the Colorado Constitution and Colorado statutes.

It cites language from a bill enacted by the state legislature in 2015 that underscores the right to record police: “A person has a right to lawfully record any incident involving a peace officer and to maintain custody and control of that recording and the device used to record the recording.”

“The CBA, CPA and CFOIC are all deeply concerned, dismayed and disappointed that despite the Colorado General Assembly and courts clearly speaking to these issues, certain Denver police officers continue to ignore, disregard and interfere with a citizen’s right to photograph and video from public spaces the conduct and actions of police officers at work,” the letter says.

“The right of Colorado citizens to photograph or video police officers in public spaces is so well established that the CBA, CPA and CFOIC can only conclude that educating police officers as to citizens’ rights is not, and has not been a priority with the City and County of Denver.”

The three organizations, Flink added, urge the city to immediately institute intensive training “so that an incident such as that experienced by Ms. Greene … is not repeated.” They also request that the city issue a press release advising the public of steps taken to address the matter.

Greene’s column reminded readers about the deaths of two black men, Michael Marshall and Marvin Booker, while in custody in Denver – part of the reason why she was interested in photographing Thursday’s incident. The naked, handcuffed man near the Capitol also was black.

“There was a context for my interest,” she wrote. “… It is part of my job to take notice of any questionable treatment of people in law enforcement in custody. That’s what I did Thursday when I was driving on Colfax and wondered why police were standing around a man they’d handcuffed and had sitting butt naked on the sidewalk without taking efforts to at least cover him up.”

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