There’s a question of constitutional rights that’s increasingly being raised around the country.
The family of a New Jersey teenager is suing a local police department claiming officers arrested the boy simply because he was videotaping a confrontation with cops.
15-year-old Austin DeCaro never imagined his habit of taking his camcorder everywhere would come in so handy on an evening several months ago.
“He got out of a car and said, ‘All of you get on the curb,’ and none of us knew what to do, so I flipped on my camera,” said Austin DeCaro, a teenage videographer, “I saw this random guy telling us to sit on the curb and I didn’t know if he was a cop or not. I decided I should record it.”
DeCaro and a couple of friends had been crossing a park in Hanover Township, New Jersey, just after dusk.
They say they had no idea there was a park curfew, a black car drove up, and a cop in plainclothes confronted them.
“I gave him my name and he realized I had a camera and he said, ‘turn that off.’” DeCaro said.
“Turn that video camera off right now or it’s going to be mine, forever,” the officer said on the video.
“Why?” DeCaro is heard asking.
“And I asked why, and he tackled me to the ground, handcuffed me, threw my camera, and arrested me,” DeCaro said.
The camera, down on the ground, still recorded the sound.
“Why are you being so mean?” DeCaro is heard saying on the video.
“Were you resisting, were you mouthing off, were you being rude, anything like that?” Eyewitness News Investigative reporter Sarah Wallace asked.
“I told him he was mean after, but that was after I got tackled,” DeCaro said.
“Now, you’re going to get charged, now your parents are going to come,” the officer said on the video.
“For what, for having a video camera on?” DeCaro asked.
DeCaro’s parents were stunned.
“They were going to charge him with obstruction, vandalism, being in the park after dark,” said Anthony DeCaro, Austin’s father.
Then, the videotape was shown to the chief.
“They dropped all the charges except for being in the park,” Anthony DeCaro said.
“And I’m sure glad my son was rolling the video camera or he would have had a whole mess of charges that were just lies,” said Lois DeCaro, Austin’s mother.
The police department declined to comment because the DeCaro family has now filed a lawsuit.
“The officer, once he saw that video, it’s clear he got angry he was being video recorded and immediately retaliated,” said Bryan Konoski, the DeCaro family’s attorney, “And this officer didn’t like it and he jumped on Austin in response. That’s illegal, inappropriate, and the excessive use of force.”
It seems as if practically everyone has a video camera or one on their smartphone these days and civil rights groups are making it easier for people to discreetly record incidents with police.”
Various ACLU’s, including New Jersey’s, have installed phone apps which allow people to upload their recordings directly to the office.
WEB EXTRA: LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ACLU’S APP AND WATCH THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW
“It gives them the ability to either audiotape or videotape the police,” said Alex Shalom, of the ACLU, New Jersey.
“So if you’re somewhere, and you see something, you do have a right to tape?” Wallace asked.
“As long as you have a right to be there. You can’t trespass, you can’t cross police tape, you can’t actually interfere with a police investigation,” Shalom said, “Use your common sense. So when police jump out at you with guns blazing, it’s not the right time for you to pull out your cell phone and start taping them.”
“Do you think in this case it helped you?” Wallace asked.
“Yeah, a bunch. If I didn’t have the camera they would have charged me with all of these false charges. I would have got in a lot of trouble,” DeCaro said.