An Alexandria, Va., man is accusing a group of Metropolitan Police Department officers of unlawfully detaining him for taking pictures of police activity, according to a suit filed today in Washington federal court.
Last July, according to the complaint (PDF), Jerome Vorus was taking pictures of a traffic stop in Georgetown. Vorus claims that police officers approached him, asked for his identification and questioned him about why he was taking pictures.
Four different officers allegedly told Vorus that it was illegal to take pictures or recordings of Metropolitan Police Department officers without permission from the public affairs office. The complaint notes, “That is not the law in the District of Columbia.”
Vorus also claims police officers told him that they can stop anyone they want, which, Vorus argues, is also false. Vorus walked away after police returned his identification, although he was never told he was free to leave.
The complaint alleges violations of Vorus’ First Amendment right to take pictures of police in public places and his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure, since he alleges the officers detained him without any reason to suspect he had committed a crime. Vorus is also suing for false arrest and imprisonment.
Vorus is the only plaintiff in this case, but he also accuses D.C. police of making similarly unlawful stops in the past.
“On many other occasions, MPD officers have unlawfully ordered members of the public to cease taking photographs of police officers or police activities in public places,” he writes in the complaint.
Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, is representing Vorus.
“We filed this case not only because we thought Mr. Vorus’ rights were violated, but because we think this is a widespread and apparently growing phenomenon,” Spitzer said this afternoon. “People have the ability to take spontaneous pictures of what’s happening around them, including police activity, in a way they never did.”
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department was not immediately available for comment.