Denver police officers arrest journalist for taking photos
Susan Greene, the editor of the Colorado Independent, was handcuffed and detained after photographing a police interaction on July 5, 2018.
Greene told Freedom of the Press Foundation in an email that she was driving in downtown Denver when she saw a group of Denver police officers standing around a naked man seated on the sidewalk.
“I stopped to check out the scene because of a history of Denver uniformed safety officers hurting African American men in their custody and not offering medical help,” she said. “I was taking a few photos of the scene when an officer told me to stop. I told him I had a right to take photographs. He said I didn't because HIPAA.”
Greene said that one of the officers, whom she identified as James Brooks, tried to intimidate her physically and stood close in front of her in an attempt to block her camera. When she then began taking photographs of Brooks, the officer responded with physical force.
Greene later wrote a first-person account of what happened for the Independent:
As it turns out, Officer Brooks didn’t like having his picture taken. After accusing me of blocking the door of an ambulance that had been called to the scene – toward which he had prodded me during our encounter – and saying something about me obstructing officers, he grabbed me and twisted my arm in ways that arms aren’t supposed to move. At some point in the blur, either he or Officer Adam Paulsen, badge No. 08049, locked one or maybe two pair of handcuffs on my wrists, tightly, and pushed me toward a nearby police car by grabbing my arms hard enough – and with a painful upward thrust – that I told them to stop hurting me. Their response: That I was hurting myself by resisting.
But I wasn’t resisting. Not even close.
I had heard from my work reporting on several excessive force cases troublesome accounts of police injuring arrestees, yet claiming they injured themselves. But to hear it first-hand, uttered obviously for the benefit of whoever might some day review the body-camera footage, was infuriating.
Greene: That time a Denver cop made up excuses to handcuff a reporter (Colorado Independent)
Greene wrote that the officers detained her in a police car for about 10 minutes before releasing her, “apparently at the urging of someone on the other end of [Brooks’] cell phone.”
The Denver Police Department opened an internal investigation into the incident. On August 23, Greene reported that she received a call from Denver district attorney Beth McGann, who told Greene that her office could not bring charges against officer Brooks for either assault or false imprisonment.
On August 28, the Denver Police Department finally released video footage of the incident taken from the body cameras worn by officers Paulsen and Brooks.
“This is protected by HIPAA,” Paulsen tells Greene in the video. “You can’t record.”
“There’s also a First Amendment,” Greene responds. “Have you heard of it?”
“That doesn’t supersede HIPAA,” Paulsen says. “Step away, or you’ll be arrested for interference."
Brooks then grabs Greene and twists her arm behind her back, and Paulsen hands him handcuffs.
“Stand up straight, let’s act like a lady,” Paulsen tells Greene as he handcuffs her.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Greene asks. “Act like a lady?”
“Nope,” Brooks says, as Paulsen finishes locking the cuffs. “There you go. Now you can go to jail.”
“Stop, you’re hurting me!” Greene yells as the officers forcibly escort her to a police car.
“No, we’re not,” one of the officers says. “Then walk, walk normal, stop resisting.”
The Denver Police Department has agreed to pay $50,000 and participate in First Amendment trainings for its officers as part of a settlement for the 2018 unlawful arrest of Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene.
Greene had begun filming several police officers and their interactions with an unclothed black man last July when she was told to stop. When she refused, officers forcefully arrested her. Following an internal investigation, the police department found in February that its officers acted improperly and they were fined.
The Independent reported the details of the settlement on Sept. 10, 2019, and said the agreement must still be approved by the city council. It also said that the department will update its policies on police bias and search and seizure of recording devices.
The city must hire Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, who will focus the officer trainings on the First Amendment right to photograph police activity in public, The Independent reported.
“NPPA is pleased that the police agreed to settle this case and look forward to providing training to its officers and supervisory personnel as we have with other agencies,” Osterreicher told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in an email. “We hope this will help avoid similar incidents in the future regarding the rights and limitations of the press and citizens to photograph and record police officers performing their official duties in a public place.”