Man claims he was illegally detained for filming Jersey City police

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. (PIX11) -- A Jersey City man says he was illegally detained by police for filming a traffic stop on his phone.

The Jersey City Police Department has now opened an internal investigation into the incident. The ACLU is calling for better training of the department, and says this was a clear violation of the First Amendment.

“The officer did not have a right to seize his phone. Did not have a right to order him to stop filming. Did not have a right to detain him,” said Ed Barocas, legal director for the ACLU in New Jersey.

The man who shot the video, Joe Feranti, posted it to YouTube. In the video, Feranti is standing on the sidewalk in Journal Square, facing the traffic stop on John F. Kennedy Boulevard. Officer Aponte with the Jersey City Police Department is speaking to the driver of the pulled over SUV and notices he is being filmed. He then walks over to Feranti.

“Is there a reason why you’re recording?” asks Officer Aponte, who said he was also recording the encounter on his body camera.

Frantic responds he’s doing his part to protect the community. Feranti is standing on the sidewalk in Journal Square, facing John F. Kennedy Blvd. The officer then orders him to turn over the cell phone video.

“At this point if you are recording my stop then I have to seize you’re phone,” he said.

When Feranti refuses, the officer says he’s calling his boss: “You’re going to stand here and I am going to detain you.”

“It’s illegal detainment,” said Feranti. “I have the authority to do that sir,” responded the officer.

After the responding Sergeant arrived, Sgt. Browne, he questioned Feranti about who he was and why he was recording, before telling him to “get out of here”.

“I think one real problem here is the need for training,” said Barocus, “This officer clearly didn’t know what the law was. If he has a right to be there, he has a right to film from there.”

Jersey City’s Department of Internal Affairs is now investigating. A spokesperson for the police department would not comment on whether or not the Department condones the behavior caught on tape.

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, of the press, and the right to assemble or petition Government.

Writing for the First Amendment Center, Clay Calvert, a professor in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida said: “It seems like a legal no-brainer that citizens have the right to film and record police officers performing their official duties in public places and to disseminate the resulting images to others as they see fit.”

Nevertheless, people have been arrested for filming the police out in public before.

Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed Eric Garner being put in a chokehold on Staten Island last summer, was later arrested on unrelated charges. But he claims the charges were retaliatory.

Last year, a Baltimore woman claimed she was tased and arrested by police for filming a man getting arrested.

Police departments have had to pay out settlements for improper arrests of people videotaping. A Florida man reportedly received a $15,000 settlement in December of last year after Orlando Police arrested him for taking video of them making an arrest.

There are limits to where you can film the police, says the ACLU-NJ’s Ed Barocas, “The police can set up barricades to say, if you are within this area, that’s a place you are not aloud to be. So, while you have the right to film, you don’t have the right to go where you’re not aloud to be to get a better angle. Also, if an officer says, you’re too close, you’re getting in the way, you have to leave.”