ACLU wins settlement over wrongful wiretap arrest

The University of Pittsburgh will award the American Civil Liberties Union nearly $50,000 for the wrongful arrest of a Pennsylvania man that was put behind bars for videotaping campus police.

Elijah Matheny turned his cell phone towards campus cops back in 2009 when he witnessed the university police placing a friend under arrest. For his “crime,” Matheny was charged with wiretapping, a felony offense in Pennsylvania. The state’s Wiretap Act normally makes it illegal for any party to make an audio recording without proper consent, but the ACLU has successfully stood up against the legislation, arguing that government officials doing their duty in public places should stand as an exception.

“Allowing officers to criminally charge people for peaceably recording the officer’s interaction with the public puts too much unfettered discretion in the hands of those very people who might well have reason to shield public eyes from their conduct,” says attorney Glen Downey, who has been handling the case with the aid of an ACLU-affiliate in the Keystone State.

The ACLU had previously tried to appeal the case to the US District Court in Western Pennsylvania to no avail. This time they were taking the case to the US Circuit Court of Appeals, but the college has settled before a verdict could be reached. The school will now pay $48,500 for the arrest.

Only one state south of Pennsylvania, the ACLU offices there are going after the Baltimore Police Department for confiscating the phone of a Maryland man that was videotaping a public arrest. RT reported yesterday that Christopher Sharp was going after the BPD for obtaining his phone without a warrant and destroying all of his personal contents.

“It kills me that the police acted as if it was okay for them to could just wipe out some of my fondest memories,” Sharp said in a press release. “I used to trust police, but now I don’t anymore, because of how wrongly the police acted here, and because it seemed like this was just routine procedure for them.”

In Sharp’s case the ACLU is going after the city cops, but Matheny’s settlement will be compensated by way of the University of Pittsburgh; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the settlement itself, however, was with the officer.

Sharp was never charged with a crime during his taping. The felony charges against Matheny were eventually dropped.

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