Filming police interactions isn’t obstruction, it’s ensuring justice | Editorial

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:

Let’s say you are cruising down John Young Parkway, and you see a police officer with his knee on the throat of a Black man laying by the side of the road, gasping for breath.

You whip out your cellphone, prepared to go all Darnella Frazier on the officer — remember that young Ms. Frazier recorded the death of George Floyd with a video that became the key piece of evidence in the murder trial and conviction of a Minneapolis police officer.

Your finger is on the video’s “start” button. But, wait! This is Florida, not Minnesota. You’d better think again.

Judges of the 4th District Court of Appeal last week made it a wiretapping offense to record the actions of police in a public place without an officer’s permission. And for heaven’s sake, don’t talk while you film because you could be charged with obstructing justice, too.

Never mind that most of the officers are recording you with their dashboard or body camera during any given random encounter nowadays. Never mind that you’re in a public place where nobody with a scintilla of sense expects privacy.

In a 2-1 vote last week, the appeal court in West Palm Beach upheld the arrest of a woman named Sharron Tasha Ford who filmed Boynton Beach officers detaining her minor son after he sneaked into a movie theater without paying for a ticket. Officers told her several times to turn off her camera, and she refused.

The decision against Ford, who is Black, comes in the midst of a recent series of deadly police encounters with young Black men that were caught on camera by average citizens.

“I thought if I had the camera, everyone would be honest and truthful,” Ford said during sworn testimony.

But judges Melanie G. May and Edward L. Artau wrote in the majority opinion that Ford “obstructed their investigation and processing of her son’s detention — a lawful execution of their duty.”

The decision raises a chilling question: What if a police officer had told Darnella, 17, to shut off her camera as Floyd agonizingly died during her 9-minute recording of former Officer Derek Chauvin with his knee jammed on Floyd’s neck? Should she have had to inform police that they were not “lawfully” doing their duty in order to continue filming? Would Chauvin have been convicted without Darnella’s disturbing evidence?

Ford’s ordeal started one evening in 2009 when police called her to come pick up her son at the Muvico Theater in Boynton Beach. Ford said later in sworn testimony that she didn’t want to “be a victim” of police brutality so she brought a digital camera.

When Ford arrived, she began filming and loudly asking questions, but she never got physical with officers and did not put herself between them and her son.

Still, she was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice and a wiretapping offense called intercepting oral communications after officers stated that she did not have their permission to film the incident, which took place on the street outside the theater with 20 to 50 people milling around.

Judge Martha C. Warner, who dissented from the other two, argued that police had no “reasonable” expectation of privacy in a public place and that the mother had done nothing wrong by filming.

She warned that the off-base ruling would mean “everyone who pulls out a cellphone to record an interaction with police, whether as a bystander, a witness or a suspect, is committing a crime.”

Warner perceptively noted that “Given how important cellphone videos have been for police accountability across the nation, I do not believe that society is ready to recognize that the recording those interactions, which include audio recordings are somehow subject to the officer’s right of privacy.”

Warner is spot on. The state attorney did not prosecute Ford, but she filed a false arrest lawsuit against the police department, and last week’s flawed ruling came in that case.

Talk about setting bad precedent. Granted, Ford was loudly asking questions. But in this land of free speech, that’s not a crime.

Citizens being able to film police officers provides a layer of accountability the public wouldn’t have without the ubiquitous smart phone — and the courage of those who despise injustice. Police should welcome being recorded — it protects them from suspects who lie about brutality.

This ruling shouldn’t be allowed to stand. Ford’s lawyers should take this misguided decision to the Florida Supreme Court.

Editorials are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board and are written by one of its members or a designee. The editorial board consists of Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty, Jennifer A. Marcial Ocasio, Jay Reddick and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Send emails to

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting