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North County Police Cooperative lawsuit

A federal First Amendment lawsuit says a North County police Cooperative officer confiscated a Dellwood woman's phone while she was filming an arrest. Screenshot from a video courtesy of the ACLU. 

DELLWOOD — A Dellwood woman sued a North County Police Cooperative officer Friday, claiming he violated her First Amendment rights by confiscating her phone and threatening her for filming an arrest.

Sarah Townsend’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis by lawyers from the ACLU and the First Amendment Clinic at the Washington University Law School.

It says that Townsend went to the Mobil Gas Station on West Florissant Avenue on Aug. 26, 2018, to buy a soda and was talking to a man in a wheelchair when the officer, identified in the lawsuit as T. Williams, arrived and said he was taking the man to jail.

When Townsend began recording the interaction on her cellphone, Williams grabbed it out of her hand and threw it forcefully into her car, the suit says. After she retrieved it and continued recording, Williams confiscated the phone, turned it off and pocketed it, the suit says. He also cursed at Townsend and threatened her with arrest, it says.

In the video, Townsend asks Williams why the man is being arrested and says he was not begging or harassing her. Townsend also says that filming Williams is lawful, shortly before he approaches her and the video ends.

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“Criticizing the government and recording police officers as they carry out their public duties is protected by the First Amendment,” said ACLU Legal Director Tony Rothert in a statement announcing the suit.

In a statement, Chief John Buchannan said, “This is the first time we have heard of this allegation.” He referred questions to the city attorney.

Vinita Park City Attorney Doug Rudman said “We’re going to take a look at (the lawsuit) and make sure the right thing happens.”

“We value the First Amendment rights of all citizens,” he added.

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