ACLU: Residents have a right to take photos in public spaces

By Angela Underwood | Feb 5, 2018

A recent settlement in a First Amendment case filed by American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU) that stemmed from Lafayette Police Department deleting a citizen's photograph shows the public has a right to take a photo in public when law enforcement is present. 

“People have a constitutional right to take photographs of things in public spaces – and that includes the police and other government officials,” Jane Johnson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a press release.

The ACLU of Louisiana filed suit against the Lafayette Police Department in March. Chelline Carter had taken a picture of her son in the back of the police vehicle, and afterward Officer Shannon Brasseux took Carter's phone and deleted the photo without a search warrant or Carter's consent.

According to the ACLU of Louisiana, the First Amendment defends the public’s authority to take pictures in public spaces including those of law enforcement and government officials on duty.

William Most

“Chelline Carter had every right to photograph her son in the back of a police vehicle, and the First Amendment training Lafayette police officers are receiving is a credit to her courage and resolve,” Johnson said in the release. “The ACLU of Louisiana will continue to hold law enforcement officials accountable for respecting the rights of the public, including the right to film and photograph the police.”

The ACLU of Louisiana said “there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places and harassing, detaining, and arresting those who fail to comply,” according to the release, which adds as part of the settlement agreement, Lafayette Police Department also paid Carter’s attorneys' fees.

In another First Amendment case, Louisiana officials allegedly abused their power when they removed three community leaders from a public City Council meeting in December.

Gary Chambers, Eugene Collins and Michael McClanahan filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Baton Rouge and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson for having them taken out of a May 10 Metropolitan Council meeting, where they spoke out about Alton Sterling, a victim of a 2016 police shooting.

William Most, a civil rights lawyer based in New Orleans who represented one of the plaintiffs, told the Louisiana Record in December when the federal lawsuit was filed that the three men were at the meeting to express their view that Baton Rouge should not return to business-as-usual without first addressing the issue of Alton Sterling’s killing.

“The men hope that this lawsuit will spark change” Most said in December. “It is our hope that the city will acknowledge the constitutional violations and take concrete steps to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Discussing the Lafayette Police Department settlement with the Louisiana Record this week, Most said the right decision was made.

"The Lafayette police actions are part of a larger pattern of Louisiana law enforcement violating citizens' First Amendment rights," Most said. "I'm glad that the ACLU held them accountable."

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