A controversial Arizona law restricting how the public can film police faced its first legal challenge Tuesday with a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The viral video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s fatal arrest of George Floyd in May 2020 was a key piece of evidence in the ex-cop’s murder conviction. It illustrates how crucial bystander footage can be in holding law enforcement accountable.
Civil rights activists fear that a new controversial Arizona law is a step backward. With a few exceptions, the law criminalizes recording video of police actions within 8 feet without permission.
The ACLU of Arizona announced Tuesday (Aug. 23) that it filed a federal lawsuit against Arizona seeking an injunction before the law goes into effect in September. Ten media news groups joined the ACLU in arguing that the law is unconstitutional.
“This law is a blatant attempt to gut First Amendment protections for recording police,” the ACLU’s statement said.
Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh sponsored the bill that Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law in July, NPR reported. In addition to a ban on recordings within 8 feet, the cops can order someone to stop recording even if they are on private property and have the owner’s permission. Violating the law is a misdemeanor.
The law allows some exceptions. People who are the direct subject of police interaction can film as long as they are not being arrested or searched. It also makes an exception for people in a car stopped by police or being questioned.
According to NBC News, the complaint claims that the law impinges on First Amendment guarantees, limiting the ability of journalists to do their job and creating the risk of arrest for activity the Constitution protects.
Kavanagh defended the law by framing it as a safety issue and one that protects law enforcement from people who “either have very poor judgment or sinister motives,” NPR quoted the lawmaker after the governor signed the bill into law.
“I’m pleased that a very reasonable law that promotes the safety of police officers and those involved in police stops and bystanders has been signed into law,” Kavanagh added. “It promotes everybody’s safety yet still allows people to reasonably videotape police activity as is their right.”
In addition to the ACLU, the plaintiffs include the Arizona Broadcasters Association, Arizona Newspapers Association, local Arizona news stations, as well as media broadcast companies, including NBCUniversal Media.
It names Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone as defendants.