Lawsuit Challenges Widespread NYPD Interference in Bystander Recording
At the press conference announcing the federal lawsuit against the NYPD are (from left in the front row): Cynthia Conti-Cook, Ruben An, William Silverman, and Joshua Carrin.

The Legal Aid Society and Proskauer Rose LLP filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to fight the New York City Police Department’s widespread practice and custom of letting police officers interfere with the First Amendment rights of individuals who record or try to record police activity in public places.

“The importance of the right to hold our police accountable by recording their public activity cannot be overstated,” said Joshua Carrin, a Staff Attorney in the Criminal Practice’s Manhattan office, at a press conference outside the Federal Courthouse after the suit was filed for Ruben An. “Mr. An hopes that the court will vindicate his right and the right of all New Yorkers to hold their police department accountable.”

Mr. An was arrested two years ago in retaliation for filming officers as they appeared to question a man on a Lower Manhattan sidewalk. The video clearly shows that Mr. An was arrested, as other New Yorkers have been, in retaliation for recording police officers. After fighting his charges in criminal court for a full year, he was acquitted of all charges. The lawsuit includes surveillance video from a nearby building and Mr. An’s own cellphone recording. The suit also notes examples of police interference occurring long after the police department distributed a "Finest" message to its officers warning officers that such activity violated the First Amendment.

At the press conference, William Silverman, a Partner at Proskauer Rose LLP leading the firm’s global pro bono work, emphasized there was “no argument whatsoever that [Mr. An] was doing anything but recording.” As far as pre-existing requirements, Silverman said it was “not enough to have a rule on paper. It’s not enough to have public pronouncements.” Training, supervision and monitoring were needed, he said, adding if the police department said there were rules not being followed “then they are still responsible for the consequences of what their individual officers are doing.”

At the event, Steve Kohut of the Justice Committee urged a judicial finding for Mr. An, saying individuals were within their rights to document and observe police activity. “We will be there to film to make sure any harassment or wrongdoing is caught on film,” he said.

The lawsuit, An v. City of New York, is pressing for a court declaration that Mr. An has a First Amendment right to record public police activity, which officers violated here. Furthermore, the suit is seeking an order that would block the police department from continuing to retaliate against New Yorkers for recording public police conduct. In order to ensure the Court reaches the key First Amendment issue presented, Mr. An does not seek damages.

Along with Mr. Carrin and Mr. Silverman, Mr. An is represented by Cynthia Conti-Cook, a Staff Attorney in the Criminal Practice’s Special Litigation Unit, Charles Sims, a Partner at Proskauer Rose LLP, Sarah Sullivan and Patrick Rieder, Associates at the firm.