A Loyola University Chicago journalism professor has filed a complaint against a Chicago police officer who allegedly detained him after he videotaped the arrest of a teen and erased the video clip.
Ralph Braseth, who also manages student media for the university's School of Communication, told The Phoenix that he is currently working on a feature story about youths from low-income parts of the city who come to the Loop during the weekends. He said he recorded the arrest of a teen who jumped a ticket turnstile at the Chicago CTA Red Line station shortly after interviewing a group of youths.
Braseth described the arrest as "textbook" and said they had acted professionally, but then one of the two plainclothes officers carrying out the arrest saw the professor recording the incident, according to The Phoenix. The officer allegedly began handcuffing the professor even as he explained that he was a journalist. The officer responded that he was being detained for "obstructing an investigation."
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Braseth was then taken to sit cuffed in the back of a squad car parked on State Street near Chicago Avenue for about 20 minutes. When the officer that arrested him got back into the car, he reportedly told Braseth he has "strong feelings that it was illegal to videotape police during an arrest."
After the officer ran a background check on Braseth, the professor was released, his handcuffs were removed and he was asked to hand over the Kodak flip camera on which he'd shot the footage. The officer then proceeded to erase the clip, the Sun-Times reports.
Braseth claims the officer "illegally erased my video files. ... This act is not only illegal but unconstitutional."
The Illinois Eavesdropping Act outlaws the recording of either private or public conservations without the consent of all parties involved. The act specifically bans audio recordings of police officers, though it does allow for silent video recordings and photographs.
It is not clear whether Braseth's recording included audio.
Though the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has challenged the law as unconstitutional, it has not yet gained much legal traction toward dismantling it. In September, U.S. 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner said that news of the law being repealed or even weakened would cause gang members, "snooping" bloggers and reporters to "rejoice." The ACLU has vowed to press on anyway.
"In order to make the rights of free expression and petition effective, individuals and organizations must be able to freely gather and record information about the conduct of government and its agents -- especially the police," Harvey Grossman, legal director of the ACLU of Illinois explained in a statement.
The crime of eavesdropping on police is considered a Class 1 felony and can be met with a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, a fate Tiawanda Moore avoided in August after a jury acquitted her of charges related to her recording a conversation she had with a police investigator.
One juror called the trial a "waste of time," nevertheless a number of others have faced the possibility of jail time for similarly violating the law.
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