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Thomas Donovan and the Case of the Blarney Blowout

Blarney Blowout Illegal Recording?          

criminal lawyerEvery year the students of University of Massachusetts congregate in the spirit of debauchery (and St. Patrick) in a celebration known as the Blarney Blowout. Last year, as in other years, things got a little out of hand and Amherst Police were called in to settle the mix. One student in particular, a senior named Thomas Donovan, attended the event armed with a cell phone. At the time Donovan was a senior UMass student who aspired to be a police officer. Donovan noticed Amherst officers using quite a bit of force to make an arrest and he proceeded to film them. Donovan stood out of the way and behind a fence while making the recording. An officer walked up to Donovan and insisted that he stop filming. A second officer approached and knocked the phone out of his hand and threw Donovan to the ground. Then an officer stomped on Donovan’s cell phone. This is the subject of Donovans lawsuit against Amherst police officers.

The Arrest

Donovan was told to stop filming and he did not. Instead he told officers that filming was not illegal and asked for their badge numbers. For this reason he was pepper sprayed at close range by an officer. After Donovan was thrown to the ground and arrested he was charged with disorderly conduct. On top of that, Donovan was charged with failure to disperse a riot. His attorneys waited until those issues were resolved prior to bringing suit against Amherst Police. Last November Donovan was cleared of all charges. His claim against Amherst Police names officers Jesus Arocho, Andrew Hulse and three other officers as John Does. Donovan maintains, through his attorneys, that he filed this lawsuit because he believes that police officers should be held accountable for discrediting the profession. He still wants to be an officer and has great respect for upright and honest police officers and wants to dedicate his life to public service.

The Lawsuit

In the video Donovan can be heard telling approaching officers, I have freedom to f****** film! He is saying this because of a landmark decision handed down in 2011 from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Court in Massachusetts. The case was Glik v. Cunniffe and it held in no uncertain terms that private citizens have the right to record both video and audio of public officials in a public place. In addition, the court added that arresting a citizen for recording public officials in a public place was in direct violation of citizens First and Fourth Amendment Rights. This ruling, although handed down by a court located in Massachusetts, is a Circuit Court Opinion, which means it applies across the United States.  Donovan is bringing suit on the grounds that his civil rights were violated. There is no crime in taping the actions of law enforcement. That being said, if you interfere with an arrest or otherwise taunt officers, you can still be arrested for that behavior, just not for the recording.

At Brownstone Law we support the civil liberties authorized by our Constitution and believe that this is a just result for all private citizens.

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