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ACLU wins federal court orders on right to video police in Ferguson, elsewhere

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ST. LOUIS • The ACLU of Missouri secured on Friday three federal court orders affirming citizens’ rights to record police, as the region girds for potential protests after the Ferguson grand jury decision is announced.

U.S. District Judge John A. Ross acted on an ACLU motion last week complaining that authorities were still inhibiting people from making videos of protest events, despite earlier court agreements with St. Louis County, Ferguson and Missouri Highway Patrol Superintendent Ronald Replogle.

The orders permanently enjoin the county police and highway patrol “from enforcing a policy or custom of interfering with individuals who are photographing or recording at public places but who are not threatening the safety of others or physically interfering with the ability of law enforcement to perform their duties.”

The wording reflects an agreement between the parties reached Aug. 15.

A similar ruling regarding Ferguson police applies to any “rule, policy, or practice that grants law enforcement officers the authority or discretion to arrest, threaten to arrest, or interfere with any individual, including any member of the media or member of the public.”

Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said the orders would provide “immediate recourse” if freedom of the press was violated.

The suit was filed on behalf of Mustafa Hussein, of the Argus Media Group, who said he and others were ordered to stop making videos during the early days of protests in Ferguson.

Since then, the ACLU documented accounts from six other journalists who complained of continued mistreatment by police.

Among them was a declaration from Post-Dispatch photographer David Carson, who said he was ordered to stay in a special media zone or else face arrest at protests Aug. 17. Some claimed they were prodded, threatened with guns or arrested.

The filing included a PEN American Center report from last month that cited 52 alleged violations of freedom of the press, including the arrests of 21 journalists and citizen journalists.

The ACLU wrote in its motion that many journalists felt they were “intentionally targeted” to prevent them from documenting events.

Authorities have vowed to uphold the rights of lawful assembly and free speech.

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Jennifer S. Mann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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