City officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are defending the arrest of an observer who was filming an arrest during a protest last month, telling a federal court that the city should not be held in contempt for violating an earlier order intended to protect the rights of journalists and citizens to record in public places.
Scott Kampas was filming the police response to a small protest outside the Ferguson Police Department in the early evening hours of April 14. When one protester was taken into custody, Kampas took a step into the street, which had already been blocked off by the police, and was immediately taken into custody.
A federal judge had ordered in November that the city of Ferguson and its employees "shall not enforce or threaten to enforce any rule, policy, or practice that grants law enforcement officers the authority or discretion to arrest, threaten to arrest, or interfere with any individual, including any member of the media or member of the public photographing or recording in public places unless that person is threatening the safety of others or physically interfering with the ability of law enforcement to perform their duties."
The conduct of officers has come under scrutiny as they police protests following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9. Based on Kampas' arrest and at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union, the judge ordered Ferguson to show why it shouldn't be held in contempt for violating the order.
"The Ferguson Police Officers in the street, including the Ferguson Police Officer who arrested me, had blocked traffic," Kampas wrote in an affidavit last month. "At the time of my arrest, there was no traffic in the lane furthest from the Ferguson Police Department."
Kampas was attempting to film the arrest of Deborah Kennedy, a postal worker who has said she plans to run for Ferguson City Council in 2016. Video appears to show that she was on the sidewalk at the time of the arrest.
The city and the officer who arrested Kampas, Matthew Miller, claimed he was not arrested because he was filming, but rather for standing about a foot into the street.
"He was arrested for violating police instructions for everyone in the area to keep out of the street and remain on the sidewalk, because he jumped into the street rapidly and encroached into the immediate area of an arrest-in-process," wrote Carl Lumley, a lawyer representing Ferguson, and Stephanie Karr, the city attorney who also served as municipal prosecutor in Ferguson's heavily criticized municipal court. The Justice Department report on Ferguson found that Karr, who also served as prosecutor in the nearby city of Hazelwood, had a ticket dismissed for Ferguson's former municipal judge.
Lawyers for the city, in a filing this week, described the relatively small daytime demonstration as "highly volatile and hazardous." They said police officers remained calm "over a lengthy period of time in the face of a constant shower of abuse, striving to protect the demonstrators and vehicle operators." They claimed there was "no evidence" that police were interfering with demonstrators or those recording demonstrations, and claimed that Kampas "violated the law" by taking a step off the curb.
Miller, the officer who arrested Kampas, said he understood and personally supported the rights of the public to photograph and record police work, but that he arrested Kampas because he saw him "jump off the sidewalk, and rapidly encroach upon the area of arrest" that he was attempting to secure.
"I did not arrest Mr. Kampas for taking video. I arrested him for disorderly conduct, due to his failure to comply with police directions and city ordinances requiring him to stay out of the street," Miller wrote.
In its motion last month, the ACLU said Kampas' arrest was unnecessary. The video of the incident does not indicate that Miller gave Kampas any direct instruction to get back on the sidewalk, but simply placed him in handcuffs.
"Mr. Kampas was not threatening the safety of others or physically interfering with the ability of law enforcement to perform their duties. Nor was Mr. Kampas committing any crime. Mr. Kampas was held in custody until the protests were over to prevent him from continuing to record the police," they wrote.
Allen Singleton, the filmmaker who shot the video of Kampas' arrest, wrote in an affidavit that he was "confused as to why the Ferguson Police Officer was arresting Scott Kampas, as I had not seen him do anything illegal and he did not interfere with the officers as they arrested the female protester."
Kampas alleged that Ferguson officers talked about holding him until the protest was over and that he was detained "specifically so that I could no longer document and record the protests that were occurring outside the Ferguson Police Department.” He was held for roughly three and a half hours.