The O’Conner Corner: CO Legal

Published on: September 28th, 2018

“Stand up and act like a lady. . . now you can go to jail.”

These were the words of Denver Police Department’s Officer Brooks as he handcuffed a woman who had stopped to photograph the Denver Police surrounding a naked Black man on the street in Denver. She was standing well away from the action when Officer Brooks approached and instructed her to stop filming.

Officers misstated to the woman, who turned out to be Susan Greene, editor of the Colorado Independent newspaper, that she couldn’t film because “this is protected by HIPAA, you can’t record it.”

HIPPA regulations are meant to protect access to our medical records, not to prohibit citizens from recording the police interacting with someone perhaps having a mental health episode. In fact, such people are at far greater risk, with one comprehensive study concluding “at least half of the people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems.”

Greene shared in an interview why she stopped: “There’s a black man, butt naked on the sidewalk handcuffed surrounded by a bunch of cops, and I see one of [the officers] laughing.” Greene would know this is a risky situation, because she has covered the deaths of two African American men who died in Denver’s jail. Denver has paid out over nine million dollars as a result of these men’s deaths, with the families represented by legal firm Killmer, Lane, and Newman (KLN).

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann told Greene over the phone she would not to press charges against Officer Brooks. She also shared that “‘people are entitled to take pictures as long as [they] are not’ getting in the way of police, [adding] that Brooks’ ‘act like a lady’ comment ‘was a little unnecessary.’”

Greene’s attorney, Mari Newman at KLN, has since stated that “[i]f we need to file a legal action to hold the city accountable, so be it.”

The ACLU of Colorado points out that, “Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right—and that includes police and other government officials carrying out their duties,'” a freedom heightened for members of the press, of which Susan Green clearly is.

Officer Brooks’ misogynist comments and baseless arrest meanwhile remain unpunished: just another day in the life of an officer in the second most deadly law enforcement agency in the country.

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