A federal judge found the Atlanta Police Department in contempt of court for not complying with an order to train officers on the right of citizens to videotape police activity.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones also ordered the city to pay about $25,000 in fees to the lawyers who filed the suit on behalf of Felicia Anderson.
Anderson was arrested in 2009 as she was videotaping police arresting a neighbor. She sued APD and her attorneys said they needed to make clear that officers cannot arrest people for videotaping police activity.
But last November, photographers for Creative Loafing newspaper and WXIA TV were arrested while covering an Atlanta protest of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Attorney Gerry Weber said those arrests were made because the two journalists were recording the protests. The city said the journalist were arrested for impeding traffic and not because of their reporting.
Attorney Gerry Weber said the arrests alerted Anderson’s lawyer to APD’s failure to comply with the 2012 consent order.
City spokeswoman Anne Torres said not training officers was an oversight. She said APD did not intentionally leave out a section in the department’s policy that would specifically say citizens have a right to videotape police activity.
She said the policy was adopted as soon as the oversight was brought to APD’s attention. “Officers were then trained on the policy and all required policy amendments are now complete,” Torres said.
Another Anderson lawyer, Daniel Grossman, disagreed with the status of the policy and training.
He said APD still was not yet telling officers they could not erase video recordings or photographs of police activity.
“They just didn’t care very much about complying with the court order,” Grossman said.
So two weeks ago, Anderson’s lawyers asked the judge to find the city in contempt.
Jones has given the police department 45 days to revise its policies to avoid daily fines of $10,000.
Torres said said APD would implement the requirements spelled out in Jones’ order.
Last week, another federal judge ordered APD to comply with the agreement to settle another lawsuit, one filed after a botched 2009 police raid of a Midtown gay bar. The city's lawyer admitted APD had not changed its training on constitutional searches seizures and was not requiring officers to wear name tags visible to the public despite the settlement of the suit.