Last week, we told you that the ACLU of Colorado had agreed to defend Ryan and Benjamin Brown.
The brothers were pulled over by Colorado Springs police earlier this year and treated roughly even though the reason for the stop was ostensibly a cracked windshield.
Ryan was eventually charged with obstructing and resisting the officers, even though the ACLU believes a video he took of the incident shows him doing nothing of the sort. The clip is on view below.
But what if police had confiscated the phone, as happened to Jessica Benn during a protest of a police-custody death in Baltimore held in Denver late last month, or forced him to delete the video? The public might never have learned about this alleged example of racial profiling.
To prevent such a possibility, the ACLU is developing a new app that will prevent such images from disappearing by automatically uploading the file to the organization.
The concept has been gaining popularity over recent years, notes ACLU of Colorado communications director John Krieger.
"The first-ever police-accountability app from the ACLU was the New York Civil Liberties Union app for the stop-and-frisk act," Krieger notes. "It was called 'Stop-and-Frisk Watch,' and it was developed as a way to recognize and research trends around police usage of stop-and-frisk in New York. It was an accountability tool, but also a research too: When people experienced a stop-and-frisk, they could report that to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which could then look at all the stops and determine if there was a racial bias. And it also allowed people to record these interactions and send the recordings directly to them, so that they could be sure the recordings were preserved and protected — and that ended up being the most popular feature.
"Since then, several other states have developed their own apps," including Missouri and Oregon, Krieger continues. "There are about ten that now have a mobile-justice app that allows you to record your interaction with police officers and send in notes and a request for legal assistance if you feel your rights have been violated. And the app also contains a know-your-rights guide in both English and Spanish."
Such apps have been very popular, Krieger points out.
"Each state that's launched a police-accountability app has quickly had thousands of users download it," he says. "And it's important to us for a couple of reasons. One is that it gives us the ability to look for certain trends when it comes to possible abuses that are widespread. And there's also a commonly occurring problem where police officers have been confiscating phones, destroying phones, destroying video. The feature of having that video automatically uploaded, preserved and protected by the ACLU prevents that."
On top of that, Krieger goes on, "this video will give us the ability to determine just what happened at large scale protests and events. Sometimes police accounts vary widely from what witnesses and people on the ground say. You saw that at the Baltimore protests at Civic Center Park. And the more people with the ability to record video, and the more that video is preserved and protected, the easier it us for us and others to determine what happened."
Taking such video is "your First Amendment right," Krieger stresses — and he's heartened by the passage this legislative session of House Bill 15-1290, a measure that codifies this concept in Colorado law. The entire bill is below, but its summary reads:
The bill creates a private right of action against a peace officer's employing law enforcement agency if a person records an incident involving a peace officer and a peace officer destroys the recording or seizes the recording without receiving consent or obtaining a warrant or if the peace officer intentionally interferes with the recording or retaliates against the person making the recording. The person who recorded the peace officer incident is entitled to actual damages, a civil penalty of $15,000, and attorney fees and costs.
The bill "is expected to be signed by the governor," Krieger says. "It's a first-of-its-kind bill — and one of the reasons we're launching this app is to send a message to both the public and police officers that this right exists. It's an important accountability tool, and we hope people use it."
The app is expected to be available early this summer.
Look below to see the aforementioned Ryan Brown video, followed by House Bill 15-1290.