Daniel Robbins filed a lawsuit against Des Moines Police Department for stopping him and taking away his phone after he video recorded police officers on a public sidewalk on May 10.
Robbins said he said he saw a police officer walk out of the police station, get into an illegally parked vehicle and drive away. He proceeded to record it on his phone.
Robbins then crossed the street to be near the police station and was approached by officer Brad Youngblut. He asked Robbins what he was doing and said he was wary of him taking pictures of officers’ vehicles.
Two other officers, Joseph Leo and Christopher Curtis, then came up to Robbins and also wanted to know what he was up to. He told them that he was just taking pictures and it was perfectly legal for him to do so. The officers continued to tell him that he was acting suspiciously and loitering.
The police then allegedly took Robbins’ Samsung Galaxy phone and a Canon camera, stopped the recording and patted him down. They let him go after a few minutes and didn’t issue a citation or arrest.
The lawsuit claims that the officers violated Robbins’ First and Fourth Amendment rights and that the city didn’t properly train the officers on what his rights are when recording the police.
Gary Dickey, the attorney representing Robbins, said citizens have the right to film police officers on public sidewalks as long as they aren’t interfering with official acts.
“When citizens have to worry about police retaliation, they are less likely to exercise these constitutional rights and democracy suffers as a result,” he said.
Sgt. Paul Parizek, a spokesman for the Des Moines Police Department, said that there would be an internal review of the officers’ behavior that day. He added that Robbins could have easily just reported a complaint about the employee being illegally parked, rather than recording him.
Parizek said that the police were looking into a call about suspicious activity like they would if someone had called from a private business.
“Let me put it in perspective: if I were to go up to any public building and stand on the sidewalk lawfully and take video of their female employees coming and going from their personal vehicle, I don’t think the impression I would leave those ladies with was that I was exercising my rights,” he said.