I have long been a big supporter of the police, but it is undeniable that in recent years, too many instances of abusive behavior by law enforcement have come to light. To a great extent, this is due to the ubiquity of video cameras, in cell phones and elsewhere, that allow public actions of law enforcement to be recorded. Understandably, some police officers don’t like this fact, and Glenn Reynolds has documented a number of instances where bystanders’ cameras have been seized and individuals have been threatened with criminal prosecution.
In Little Canada, Minnesota, a local prosecutor made good on such a threat. Andrew Henderson, who has made a hobby out of videotaping law enforcement in public places, was charged with interfering with sheriff’s deputies and an ambulance crew when he filmed them. Yesterday, a jury needed less than an hour and a half to acquit Henderson:
Andrew Henderson said he will continue shooting videos of police after a Ramsey County jury found him not guilty Thursday of criminal charges filed against him after he turned his camera on Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies and an ambulance crew in 2012. …
A sheriff’s deputy took away Henderson’s camera when Henderson would not identify himself and refused to stop taping an Oct. 30, 2012, incident outside Henderson’s apartment building in Little Canada in which an ambulance crew and police were taking away a drunken man.
The deputy told Henderson, “If I end up on YouTube, I’m gonna be upset.
There was no evidence that Henderson physically interfered with the paramedics; apparently the “interference” consisted of the fact that they didn’t like being filmed:
[Prosecutor Kevin] Beck said the paramedic had to ask a sheriff’s deputy to talk to Henderson, and that delayed the ambulance crew getting the drunken man to a hospital.
“The crime was committed when the paramedic had to stop providing medical care” to try to get Henderson to stop taping, Beck said.
The prosecution claimed that Henderson was within a few feet of the paramedics (but not physically interfering with them), while Beck testified that he was approximately 35 feet away, quietly filming. That disagreement would have been resolved by the video itself, except that the sheriff’s deputies seized Henderson’s video camera, and the tape that it contained mysteriously disappeared.
The prosecutor offered Henderson a plea bargain whereby he would plead guilty to a petty misdemeanor and pay a $50 fine, but Henderson refused, preferring to defend the case on First Amendment grounds. He received a free legal defense from a prominent Twin Cities law firm.
Since the prosecution admitted that Henderson didn’t physically interfere with the ambulance crew, the case never should have been brought, let alone proceeded as far as a jury trial. That said, it is reassuring that the jury had no difficulty in acquitting Henderson.