Connecticut Bill Aims to Make Cops Pay for First Amendment Violations

Officers of the law in Connecticut may soon have a strong incentive to tolerate citizens filming them—financial liability.

Police typically work under the condition of "qualified immunity," which protects them from liability when they screw up and say arrest a person for filming them. This deflects the legal costs (lawyer fees, settlements, etc) from the officer himself onto the city or department for which he works—the publicly-funded city or department for which he works. And, regardless of the outcome, it's taxpayers' wallets that are on the line.

Well, Sen. Eric Coleman (D-Bloomfield) is having no more of it. He's sponsored a bill that will hold individual officers liable if they violate a citizen's First Amendment rights in the fairly-specific set of circumstances surrounding filming on-duty police. Officers will be held accountable unless they they feel they must prevent filming in order to

(1) lawfully enforce a criminal law of this state or a municipal ordinance, (2) protect the public safety, (3) preserve the integrity of a crime scene or criminal investigation, (4) safeguard the privacy interests of any person, including a victim of a crime, or (5) lawfully enforce court rules and policies of the Judicial Branch with respect to taking a photograph, videotaping or otherwise recording an image in facilities of the Judicial Branch.

A proposed amendment adding the "inconvenience or alarm" of an officer was rejected as it would have been too obvious an out. The bill has already passed the Senate and is now heading to the House. [Connecticut Senate via Ars Technica - Image: the AP]