Local News Report on the Michael Allison Case

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

A Terre Haute station interviews Michael Allison, the Illinois man facing up to 75 years in prison for making audio recordings of on-duty police officers and other public officials. Allison was the main subject of my January Reason feature, “The War on Cameras”.

The report gets a few things wrong, most notably the assertion recording cops is “illegal in a dozen states”.  A dozen states require all parties to consent before you can record a conversation, but all except Illinois and Massachusetts have an “expectation of privacy” provision that the courts to this point have ruled does not apply to on-duty police officers (or anyone in a public setting). That hasn’t stopped police from arresting people in those states (and others) anyway. But the charges don’t hold up in court.

This isn’t a distinction without a difference. When a media outlet reports that recording cops is “illegal” in these states (and the Terre Haute station is not the first to do so), it adds to the public perception that doing so is, in fact, illegal. This makes it more difficult to hold police officers accountable when they disregard the law. In order to overcome a police officer’s qualified immunity in a lawsuit for wrongful arrest, you have to show that a reasonable person (not a reasonable police officer) should have known that the arrest was in violation of clearly established law. When media outlets continue to incorrectly report that recording cops is illegal in these states, they contribute to public confusion about the law—and thus make it more difficult for people who have been wrongly arrested to argue in court that a reasonable person should have known that the arrest was illegal.

The reporter’s characterization of his amusing confrontation with a deputy in the courthouse is also incorrect. The reporter says they were advised by attorneys not to air the audio of the conversation because of the same law under which Allison is being prosecuted. But if they did make a recording of their interaction with the deputy, they’d be subject to prosecution regardless of whether or not they actually aired the audio.

Still, points for effort. This is a seven-and-a-half minute report from a local news station about an important issue that takes a skeptical view of law enforcement. That’s pretty rare.

I’ll have more about recent developments in the Illinois eavesdropping law in a forthcoming piece for Huffington Post.

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33 Responses to “Local News Report on the Michael Allison Case”

  1. #1 |  SJE | 

    I think that they really should push home the point that the journalists are already violating the law by recording….it just shows the stupidity of the law. If they convict this guy, it will be appealled all the way up, and be a huge millstone around the neck of politicians.

  2. #2 |  derfel cadarn | 

    The police should NO expectation of privacy while doing their jobs,they also should be held to at least (if not a higher) the standard that normal citizens are held to. Contempt of cop is not a crime. I for one have nothing but contempt for all police and their elitist overlords. Until ALL Americans are treated equally this country will not know freedom or liberty.

  3. #3 |  Joe | 

    Recording cops in public while they are performing their public duties is NOT a crime. Even if a few state courts and legislatures disagree–that is because they are stupid and wrong.

  4. #4 |  John P. | 

    Radley you need to send the editors an email correcting them on their wrong assertions.

    Coming form someone like you it carries weight with them, especially when they realize you can elevate their ignorance to a national level via your blog, the HuffPo et al…

    Coming from one of us, its simply discarded as ill informed or ignorant. How dare a peasant try to correct a member of the media…

  5. #5 |  Bergman | 

    Odds are, if he had pulled out a gun and shot the police officer to death instead of recording him, he’d be facing fewer years in prison.

  6. #6 |  SJE | 

    I posted this once before, but it bears repeating.

    In the USA, you face decades in jail for recording your average cop.

    Wonder how it is in a communist dictatorship like China? Howabout the secret police, who are SUPPOSED to be secret. They just get pissy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8FCtgrq73Q&feature=youtu.be

    So, secret police in authoritarian society: they get pissy. regular police in democratic society: jail terms exceeding that for murder.

  7. #7 |  ceanf | 

    i have a novel idea, though it would likely never be implemented… Illinois police officers most assuredly (though i could be wrong) have dash mount cameras in their squad cars that record both audio and video of encounters with citizen. so maybe a way to back these rouge prosecutors and police officers into a corner concerning this whole issue would be to have citizens who are recorded on these camera, without their consent, press charges against these LEOs under this very same law. now i am not a lawyer, and maybe someone with a bit more knowledge on the subject could chime in, but it seems like what is good for the goose should be good for the gander. And if it did happen, while it probably would not be successful, it would at the very least expose the hypocrisy of the whole situation, and essentially force them admit, though not in a direct manner, that LEOs are subject to a different set of laws than normal citizens. like i said, it probably isn’t feasible and if it were, would likely go nowhere, but it would be interesting to see someone attempt that particular angle in court.

  8. #8 |  munch | 

    One day I wake up and think “nothing can stop this.” the next day I believe work such as yours (and other factors) is how the West ever achieved a liberal society. Today I don;t kno which side of the bed.

  9. #9 |  John | 

    Well, this sucks. I live in Mass., so what am I supposed to do if I record a cop interaction?? THEY “have an expectation of privacy” during our interaction, but I don’t? What if I object to being recorded, citing my “expectation of privacy”?Why are “public servants” immune from the law? Did the cops who beat Rodney King get THEIR “expectation of privacy” violated when they were being recorded? Just WHAT kind of country am I living in?

  10. #10 |  j a higginbotham | 

    Here’s a dentist exonerating someone:
    http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2011/06/attorney_new_orleans_police_of.html
    The police report is clear: Officers Joshua Hunt and Samuel Birks were together on foot patrol at the Jackson Landing apartments in Algiers when they made a drug arrest in January.

    But records dug up by defendant Alvin Bean’s attorney show that Hunt, the officer who signed the report, was actually at the dentist on Jan. 25, 2011, at the time he and Birks allegedly made the arrest.

  11. #11 |  albatross | 

    A widespread belief that recording the police is illegal may be short-term beneficial to individual corrupt or misbehaving policemen. But long-term, it’s a disaster for the reputation of the police.

    Despite the best efforts of police union spokesmen, there is exactly one sensible reason to arrest citizens videotaping policemen: to deter people collecting and sharing evidence of police misconduct. When I see news that some police department has arrested someone for videotaping police conduct, and a local prosecutor is filing charges, the only conclusion I can come to is that the police and prosecutors are routinely violating the law, beating people up, planting evidence, lying on police reports. It’s like a bank that somehow gets a law passed to forbid any independent auditors from ever looking at its books, or even its public numbers–there’s really only one reason they’d need to do that.

    It will not take a whole hell of a lot of that sort of insight, before the average white citizen has as low an opinion of the restraint and judgment of policemen as the average black citizen. And this will make police work a whole lot harder–fewer citizens willing to call the police, fewer tips, more skeptical jurors, and in general, a loss of the sense that respectable citizens and the police are on the same side.

    It would be wise for policemen to take a lesson from Catholic priests, who also had widespread misbehavior that was institutionally protected and hushed up for decades. And when that misbehavior came out, the damage was immense–now, and for the forseeable future, Catholic parents will be reluctant to have our kids alone around priests. The great majority of priests never did anything inappropriate with kids, of course, just like the great majority of policemen are surely honest. But who wants to take that kind of chance with their own kid?

  12. #12 |  jcalton | 

    So the standard for citizens is to know all the laws, period.

    But the standard for the executive branch in charge of enforcing all the laws (i.e., the police) is to only know what is lawful if a reasonable person would be expected to know?

    I.e., the “reasonable person” standard does not apply to reasonable persons.

  13. #13 |  75 years for video taping a LEO. - INGunOwners | 

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  22. #22 |  Robert Neff | 

    We need to get behind Mr. Allison. There are many examples within the Parental Rights Movement that echo this theme. For instance, the use of family court judges to use in chamber meetings to cover up for sham hearings.

    Robert A. Neff
    217-826-8874
    ranapub@yahoo.com

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  33. #33 |  Jason A. Thompson | 

    FEDERAL Court says public has right to video police in public places

    http://www.citmedialaw.org/blog/2011/victory-recording-public

    http://www.universalhub.com/2011/court-says-state-law-banning-recording-police-offi

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