September 19, 2008
After Mike Tabor turned his videocamera on two Portland cops rousting a couple of men on a downtown sidewalk, one cop seized his camera and gave him a ticket, saying he’d broken the law by recording the officers without their permission.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, and now Tabor is trying to force the Portland Police Bureau to take a formal position on whether it’s OK for civilians to videotape cops — with sound — in public places.
In a tort claim notice to the city last week, attorney Benjamin Haile informed the city of Tabor’s intent to sue for $100 and a written policy saying that citizens have the right to make video and audio records of police. Haile has taken on Tabor’s case at no charge to Tabor. He says recording officers on the job is a fundamental part of holding police accountable that Haile believes is protected by the First Amendment.
The issue isn’t an isolated one. Last month, Beaverton police arrested a 27-year-old Aloha man on accusations that he illegally recorded an officer arresting another man at a bowling alley. Ho Xent Vang recorded the encounter on his cell phone, and Beaverton police say the audio part of the recording violated state law because the officer didn’t give his consent.
In both cases, police were citing ORS 165.540, which makes it generally illegal to tape-record a conversation without first obtaining permission except in cases where a person wouldn’t reasonably expect privacy, such as at a public meeting or sporting event.
Portland police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz said he believes the public doesn’t have a right to record officers’ conversations – on or off the job – without their consent.
"Just because somebody is a police officer doesn’t mean they give up their rights," Schmautz said.
The videotaping incident that netted Tabor a ticket unfolded when Tabor spotted officers Dane Reister and Nicholas Ragona stopping two men on March 25 next to the Portland Art Museum. On the nine-minute video, one of the officers can be heard accusing one man of being a drug dealer and the other a drug buyer. He repeatedly asks one of the men for his ID and to allow himself to be patted down. At one point, the officer -identified by Tabor as Reister -tells the man to back away. And when the man takes a step back, Reister takes two or three steps forward and shoves the man in the chest.