The Southwest Times Record reports that a Fort Smith man has won a $40,000 settlement from a Sebastian County deputy sheriff who seized his cell phone while the man was photographing a drug bust. The case has also inspired a new written policy that makes it clear citizens have a right to record police officers in action.
Braden Purcell, who was out taking a walk, took video from across the street during a drug task force raid. When a deputy tried to stop him, he refused. He was then arrested and his iPhone was seized. The charge was eventually dropped and Purcell was told different stories when he tried to get his phone back. He filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. The settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing by the deputy, but the judgment says plenty. The money and attorney fees — a total of $90,000 —were paid by the risk management insurance for counties, a fund to which counties contribute public money.
The Times-Record also reported Sunday that the sheriff’s office now has a written policy on responding to people making recordings. It notes citizens have First Amendment rights to take video “in a lawful manner” and that officers are prohibited from intimidating someone into ceasing filming or from obstructing frilming.
Officers may make arrests if a person making a record creates a safety risk; enters clearly marked crime scene without authorization; enters an area in an emergency or closed to the public; is on private property against the wishes of the property owner.
Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck said the policy arose from the Purcell suit against Cpl. Bryan Fuller. The article noted that the State Police and Fort Smith police don’t have written policies on the issue, but spokesmen for both agencies acknowledged the ability to make recordings in the public domain, though safety and emergency circumstances could play a factor.