Woman arrested for taking cell phone video of cops files civil rights claim

By Jon Campisi | Sep 30, 2011

A West Chester woman who was arrested for taking cell phone video of Philadelphia police officers engaged in what appeared to be questionable arrest tactics on another person has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the individual officers involved in her ordeal.

Attorney Paul Messing, of the Philadelphia law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, filed the civil action Sept. 26 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Annette Selby.

In addition to the city of Philadelphia, named as defendants in the lawsuit are Officer Dominick Cole and two unidentified officers.

According to the complaint, Selby was driving her vehicle in the area of the 700 block of South Street in Philadelphia on June 25 when she came upon the defendant officers, who appeared to be using “excessive force” on a man unknown to the plaintiff.

While she was stopped at a traffic light, Selby opened up her driver’s side door, stood up outside of the car and began filming the incident with her cell phone, the suit states.

Immediately, defendant Cole, who was on duty at the time, ran over to Selby and began yelling at her to leave the location. After Selby sat back down inside her car, Cole slammed the door on her leg, causing her to experience brief pain and discomfort, but no serious bodily injury, the lawsuit states.

Cole then again came over to Selby’s vehicle, ordered her out of the car, and placed her under arrest. Selby was taken to a police station and charged with disorderly conduct. She was also issued a host of traffic citations.

Selby claims the charges caused damage to her reputation and suspension from her place of employment, the lawsuit states. Her job troubles came after defendant Cole allegedly placed a call to Selby’s work supervisor, falsely telling the supervisor that Selby was intoxicated and acting in a disorderly manner at the time of her arrest. This caused Selby harm to her reputation and professional standing, the suit alleges.

On July 21, Selby was found not guilty of the criminal charge against her after a hearing in Philadelphia’s Municipal Court. She was subsequently found not guilty of the traffic infractions issued to her during a Sept. 21 hearing in Philadelphia Traffic Court, the suit states.

“The use of force, unlawful arrest, search, detention and malicious prosecution in this case were the direct result of all defendants’ pattern, practice and custom of subjecting citizens such as the plaintiff to the use of force, arrest, search and prosecution in the absence of probable cause,” the complaint states. “The mistreatment to which Ms. Selby was subjected was undertaken, at least in part, in retaliation for the exercise of protected First Amendment rights and to prevent Ms. Selby from recording a video that depicts acts of apparent police misconduct.”

The lawsuit claims that Selby has suffered, and continues to suffer, physical and psychological harms and pain and suffering because of the incident.

The defendants are accused of violating Selby’s civil rights, assault and battery, false arrest and false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, defamation and invasion of privacy.

Selby seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as reasonable attorney’s fees. She is demanding a jury trial.

In August, a federal appeals court in Boston ruled that a man who had been arrested for filming a drug arrest with his cell phone had had his First and Fourth Amendment rights violated. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that case law and “basic First Amendment principles” provide the basis for citizens’ constitutionally protected rights to videotape police officers carrying out their official duties.

Closer to home, Pennsylvania courts have ruled that those caught videotaping or audio recording police on the job are not violating the state’s wiretapping law because officers acting in their official capacity have no expectation of privacy, according to civil rights attorney Ben Picker.

The federal case number for the Selby case is 2:11-cv-06030-WY.

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