Encourage People To Contact the Boston Police Department's Bureau of Public Information? That's A Jailin'.
Carlos Miller runs the indispensable blog Photography Is Not A Crime, which documents the struggle between citizen-photographers and the cops and government officials who would like to prevent them from taking pictures of things. That's a trend we've talked about here as well — whether it's cops arresting citizens on the pretense that their cell phones might be futuristic weapons or on the pretense that they are "interfering" with police business (even when they are a safe distance away on their own property). In addition, we've talked about the ongoing legal struggle against laws that purport to prohibit citizens from recording cops engaged in their duties in public, and about how cops are attempting to suppress publication of recordings of their public activities.
Miller's campaign has gotten him charged with crimes before. Now it's happened again — because he published the contact information of the Boston Police Department's Public Affairs Officer.
The story begins typically for Photography Is Not A Crime with a story about a Boston Police Department sergeant thuggishly assaulting a photographer recording a traffic stop. A PINAC fan and journalism student named Taylor Hardy called the Boston PD's Bureau of Public Information on its public line to ask about the story. Hardy spoke with Angelene Richardson, a spokesperson for the Boston Police Department who provides information to the media and public. When Hardy published a recording of that call, the Boston Police Department arranged for him to be charged with wiretapping. Hardy claims that he informed Richardson that he was recording the call (though he did not successfully record that part of the conversation), apparently Richardson claims that he did not.
Even assuming that Hardy didn't disclose that he was recording (and it would be foolish to take the BPD's word on that), it's very dubious policy for the government to charge a citizen with a crime for recording a call with a police department's public information officer on the phone line the department identifies as its public information line. Any such communication can't possibly be regarded as private. There may be constitutional problems with a wiretapping statute that allows prosecution of a citizen under those circumstances. But the BPP wasn't done doubling down yet.
When Carlos Miller wrote about the wiretapping charges against Hardy, he encouraged readers to contact Richardson at her BDP telephone number and email address, which the BPD published online:
Maybe we can call or email Richardson to persuade her to drop the charges against Hardy considering she should assume all her conversations with reporters are on the record unless otherwise stated.
In other words, Miller encouraged his readers to petition the government for a redress of grievances, as protected by the First Amendment.
Detective Nick Moore also assured me he would do the same to any PINAC readers if they continue to contact departmental spokeswoman Angelene Richardson as they have been doing since yesterday.
“I can go and get warrants for every person who called her,” he said during a telephone conversation earlier this evening. “It’s an annoyance. It’s an act of intimidation.”
Indeed — an act of intimidation is involved. But it's an act of intimidation by the BPD, which is sending a clear message about how it will handle citizen dissent.
What a accomplishment: the Boston Police Department has discovered a way to make it a crime for citizens to contact the person it designates to talk to citizens.
By the way, I often tell people to shut up rather than answer questions from cops, because when cops say they are "just clearing up some issues" or "just want to straighten some things out" or "just want to get some facts," they are very often full of shit: they are trying to get you to incriminate yourself. As an example of what I mean, consider the dishonest, unctuous bullshit that BDP Detective Nick Moore used in an effort to get Carlos Miller to talk before charging him:
Can you please contact me at your convenience at my office, xxxxxxxxxxxxx. I realize that you do not trust the police and that is fine but I assure you I am not trying to jam you up. I just wish to have a cordial conversation with you and clear the air about a few things. Please do not post my office number or email to your website as I have numerous victims of serious crimes who contact me on a daily basis and It would not be fair to them or me if my voicemail box is full and they cannot get ahold of me.
My supervisors and the District Attorney’s office are aware of this request but I assure you that the conversation will just be me and you, not recorded, and again, Im not trying trap you into anything incriminating. As I relayed to Mr. Hardy I try to give everyone involved in my investigations the benefit of the doubt and speaking with you about this hopefully will accomplish that. Thank you.
Boston Police Department
Cops are not looking out for your best interests. Cops are looking to put someone in jail.
Update: Boston PD has slunk away.
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