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Posted at 6:02 PM ET, 09/27/2010

Charges dropped in cyclist, trooper taping

By Washington Post editors

A Harford County Circuit Court judge Monday dismissed wiretapping charges against Anthony Graber, a motorcyclist who was jailed briefly after he taped a Maryland state trooper who stopped him for speeding on I-95 using a camera mounted on his helmet, then posted the video on YouTube.

In April, a few weeks after the traffic stop, Hartford County state's attorney Joseph I. Cassilly charged Graber, a staff sergeant in the Maryland Air National Guard and a computer systems engineer, with violating the state's wiretapping law. That law dates back to the 1970s and was originally intended to protect citizens from government intrusions into their privacy. If convicted on all charges, Graber faced up to 16 years in prison.

One of the key legal questions facing Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr., was whether police performing their duties have an expectation of privacy. Pitt ruled that police have no expectation of privacy in their public, on-the-job communications.

Pitt wrote: "Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation. 'Sed quis custodiet ipsos cutodes' ("Who watches the watchmen?”)."

Graber was also charged with possessing a “device primarily useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of oral communications" -- referring to the video camera on his helmet. The judge disagreed with the prosecutor that the helmet cam was illegal, and concluded the state's argument would render illegal “almost every cell phone, Blackberry, and every similar device, not to mention dictation equipment and other types of recording devices."

No word yet on whether the state's attorney will try to appeal the decision.

Graber still faces traffic charges.

Pitt's decision is the first ruling in Maryland to address the legality of citizens taping police in the course of their duties. Because it is a circuit court ruling, it is not binding on other judges. However, unless it is appealed, Graber's attorney David Rocah of the ACLU of Maryland, said "it is likely to be the last word" on the matter and regarded as precedent by police.

-- Annys Shin

By Washington Post editors  | September 27, 2010; 6:02 PM ET
Categories:  Crime and Public Safety, Maryland  
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Comments

I'm very confused about this whole ordeal. What police force would ever assume that it is against the law to videotape them in public? If you are a safe distance from the officer and in their field of view, what is the problem with a citizen recording them? I have a lot of respect for all the policemen and women out there, but they are public servants and therefore not entitled to privacy while performing their public duties in a public setting. Most police officers (and I am friends with several) are good, honest seekers of justice. However, every group has its fringe elements and therefore REQUIRES public scrutiny as a form of checks and balances. To all the good cops out there, keep up the good work.

Signed,
A fellow officer

Posted by: libertyordeath4 | September 27, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

I'm very confused about this whole ordeal. What police force would ever assume that it is against the law to videotape them in public? If you are a safe distance from the officer and in their field of view, what is the problem with a citizen recording them? I have a lot of respect for all the policemen and women out there, but they are public servants and therefore not entitled to privacy while performing their public duties in a public setting. Most police officers (and I am friends with several) are good, honest seekers of justice. However, every group has its fringe elements and therefore REQUIRES public scrutiny as a form of checks and balances. To all the good cops out there, keep up the good work.

Signed,
A fellow officer

Posted by: libertyordeath4 | September 27, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Judge Pitt, for protecting our civil rights! The cop and the state's attorney were both stupid and evil to bring charges against a citizen for recording his interaction with police.

Posted by: pundito | September 27, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

To say the police and prosecutors were "stupid" is being very generous.

Bogus "contempt of cop" arrests happen every day. This is business as usual for them, and experience tells them they can get away with it. Only the huge Internet uproar kept them from getting away with it this time.

Posted by: vfr2dca | September 27, 2010 11:54 PM | Report abuse

The DA, cop who stopped him, and the additional cops who susequently raided his house should be brought up on charges of abuse of power.

Posted by: cadam72 | September 28, 2010 12:45 AM | Report abuse

As far as the speeding charges against Graber, I would argue that if the police thought this was a legitimate offense why are they going to such extraordinary lenghts to suppress evidence of the traffic violation and "persecute" him. Misbehavior by the police and County DA will invariably taint their evidence of the speeding charge.

Posted by: atkissonjim | September 28, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

To fellow Officer:'

Maryland is a two party consent state. If I am having a one on one conversation with you even in public the state law requires you to get my consent of record the audio of the conversation. Your employment capacity was not address in the law. Video with out sound is perfectly legal. The only exception to this is the video and audio recording of Traffic stops by Officers via in car camera systems. During those stops Officers are instructed to inform the driver that the stop is being audio and visually recorded. Whether its a good or bad ruling the judge set a legal precedence in Maryland. The nest 20 years should be interesting.

Posted by: Bluecrab65 | September 28, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Bluecrab,
I get what you're saying, but that is where you're misunderstanding the law. The maryland law states "intercepting a conversation by audio recording device" and "only where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists". A person with a video camera is not intercepting anything, a conversation in public that can be heard by anyone is not what the law is referring to. A good cop doing his job has nothing to fear from a camera. And with regards to the police cruiser camera, you expect me to believe that officer will stop recording if I don't consent? C'mon. I'm going to test that theory out next time I get stopped. If they can record, so can I. Remember, only where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.........PERIOD.

Posted by: libertyordeath4 | September 28, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Bravo to the judge. This case was an embarassment to the state trooper and the state's attorney.

By the way, the term "cyclist" is not usually used to refer to motorcyclists.

Posted by: washpost4 | September 28, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I think that if police can record you, you should be able to record them. Afterall, in a traffic stop, it's really your word against theirs, esp. if they trump up other charges just because they can, which they do sometimes. And every cop with a dashboard camera does not always inform you that they are recording you.

Posted by: lidiworks1 | September 28, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Doesn't anyone find it offensive that the off-duty cop pulled his gun on a speeder? Do we really need loose cannon cops???

Posted by: TooManyPeople | September 28, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

For Bluecrab65

Were it not for folks video recording the actions of our police, incidents such as Rodney King's beating, or Maryland police beating the student at UofMD would not have been on record.

Cops do not routinely inform those they stop that they are recording the event. They should expect that their arrest actions are recorded; that's why cameras are installed on their vehicle dashboards. There is no law preventing a citizen from recording the actions or comments of any law enforcement officer in the conduct of his duties.

They are public servants; their motto is "Serve and protect" not "Bully and Abuse."

However, many routinely abuse their authority, commit perjury, doctor official documents, forge signatures, and commit criminal acts while on duty. I recall a VA state trooper who was the "king of DUI Arrests" until he was charged and convicted of raping women he stopped on the highway.

Then there' was the undercover cop, disguised as a drug dealer, who pursued a university student in a dirty unmarked car from Maryland, through DC, and into Virginia, boxed him into a driveway, and then shot him to death -- and later admitted he thought the kid was someone else. No charges were filed against him.

We are still awaiting the results of the investigation in Alexandria in which a cop shot a disabled former soldier in the back of the head several times during a routine traffic stop on Rte 1 -- while other cops stood by and did nothing. To this day, we have no information on his identity or on the disposition of that case [Where's the WP on this issue?]

It is not unusual these days to see reports of cops shooting to death unarmed "suspects" in the back, and then claiming "I feared for my life!" which supposedly justifies their actions. Maryland has achieved some notoriety for these incidents, although there was a federal marshal who shot an unarmed sailor to death as the sailor drove away from him; that's the only incident I know of in which a law enforcement officer was charged..

I'm not a cop basher; my interest is to preserve the integrity of law enforcement.

There are four generations of law enforcement in my family; none of us tolerated out of control cops, and I've had several of them relieved of their badges and guns -- and will continue to pursue those who disgrace the uniform and badge.

As the judge said:
'Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes'
("Who watches the watchmen?”)."

Posted by: irisatrx | September 28, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Disgusting that the case was even brought. Fire Joe Casilly, the states attorney. Reprimand the trooper, take that cowboy off the street. Hit his wallet with a meaningful fine. There is no - repeat - NO justification for this brazen and irresponsible flouting of the law and justice.

Respect for the police is a critical element of civil society and the damage done by the inappropriate stop is only compounded by the foolish case brought by the states attorney. Same nonsense up in PA where right wing paranoid 'homeland insecurity' clowns classify peaceful citizens as terrorist threats because they don't like or agree with their politics. These 'police state' antics do great harm to the ability of citizens to trust in their law officers. Actions must have consequences. Reprimand the trooper and fire Casilly.

This is a big deal. Also, the kid on the motorcycle should be prosecuted for his traffic violations too.

Posted by: right_as_rain | September 28, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

The kid on the motorcycle freely admitted that he was speeding and said he deserved the ticket -- but not the abuse.

Posted by: irisatrx | September 28, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Judge Pitt, for rendering a common sense verdict in a case that the DA shouldn't have even brought in the first place.

Posted by: tronic1 | September 28, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Whoever was responsible for prosecuting this case needs to be fired. Very poor judgement. Good decision by the judge.

Posted by: hmrc1 | September 28, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Interestingly, the reason why the state's attorney was able pursue this case was because the motorcyclist recorded the audio. Video without audio would have been permissible.

What I though was the most outrageous facet of this case was the state police raided the man's home and confiscated all of his computer equipment to process as evidence - that to me he hugely troubling.

The judge in this case made the proper decision. I hope that the prosecutor does not attempt an appeal. The Maryland legislature needs to amends the law to bring it up to date with current technology. 'Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes'
("Who watches the watchmen?”) - could not have been better said.

Posted by: maus92 | September 28, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

A good ruling by the judge. Those who abuse power always rely on doing their dirty work without being seen or recorded. Ever notice that, when some cop or other person abuses their authority, they try to stop those who record it? It's important that people have this right - without it, bad cops get away with murder, and it affects how people feel about the whole justice system. The motorcyclist should pay his fine, but those who signed the search warrant on his house should be fired. And the prosecutor as well.

Posted by: garoth | September 28, 2010 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Interesting. The comments above hold not one single complaint of an "activist judge" on the rampage.

Posted by: dastubbs | September 29, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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