A North Carolina court of appeals ruled that police officers violated a passenger’s First Amendment rights when they stopped him from livestreaming his traffic stop on Facebook Live.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for North Carolina’s 4th Circuit weighed its opinion on the case of the Winterville Police Department’s policy prohibiting members of the public from livestreaming interactions with police. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Dijon Sharpe, who was told he would be arrested if he did not stop livestreaming during a stop on Oct. 9, 2018.
According to the court’s ruling, Sharpe was a passenger in a vehicle that was lawfully pulled over by two officers. While pulled over, Sharpe began livestreaming on Facebook Live and one officer, Myers Helms, noticed and told him to stop, citing a concern for officer safety. He then attempted to take the phone away by reaching through the window.
The document states that Officer William Ellis told Sharpe it would be OK if he was recording a video but if he livestreamed again his phone would be taken away.
Sharpe brought a lawsuit against the city of Winterville for having a policy prohibiting livestreaming of police interactions but lost in a district court. The Carolina Journal said the court also barred Sharpe from suing Helms because he is entitled to qualified immunity.
The appeals court ruled that Winterville’s policy must be narrowly tailored and grounded to demonstrate a sufficient government interest that can withstand the strict scrutiny required under the First Amendment.
“Defendants have not done enough to show that this policy furthers or is tailored to that interest. Nor is that gap filled here by common sense or caselaw,” the ruling said.
With the appeals court’s decision, the case will move back to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
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