As a bloody-faced man was frisked by sheriff’s deputies and loaded into an ambulance, 28-year-old Andrew Henderson was recording the scene with his video camera — as he regularly does with law enforcement.
But as he recorded outside his apartment building in Little Canada, Minn., Henderson was approached by one of the deputies, Jacqueline Muellner, who then ripped the camera out of his grip.
“We’ll just take this for evidence,” Muellner said, the voices of the officers captured on Henderson’s cellphone. “If I end up on YouTube, I’m gonna be upset.” A copy of the cellphone audio was provided to the Pioneer Press.
A week after his camera was taken on Oct. 30, 2012, Henderson was charged with obstruction of legal process and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors. Henderson is adamant that he did nothing wrong.
Henderson explained to the Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies that he was within his rights to be there and to record them on video. He also refused to identify himself, according to the Pioneer Press.
The day after his camera was confiscated, Henderson went to the Arden Hills sheriff’s substation to get it back. He was told he would have to wait, but instead of a camera, he later received the two misdemeanor charges.
Henderson returned again around Nov. 17 to get a copy of the police report and retrieve his camera. Deputy Dan Eggers refused to provide him with either but had some words for him.
“I think that what (the deputies) felt was you were interfering with someone’s privacy that was having a medical mental health breakdown,” Eggers said in a conversation recorded by Henderson. “They felt like you were being a ‘buttinski’ by getting that camera in there and partially recording what was going on in a situation that you were not directly involved in.”
Unfortunately for Eggers, there is no law against being a so-called “buttinski.”
The Press has more details on the reasoning behind the charges:
The deputy wrote on the citation, “While handling a medical/check the welfare (call), (Henderson) was filming it. Data privacy HIPAA violation. Refused to identify self. Had to stop dealing with sit(uation) to deal w/Henderson.”
Henderson appeared in Ramsey County District Court on Jan. 2. A pretrial hearing was rescheduled for Jan. 30.
The allegation that his recording of the incident violated HIPAA, or the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is nonsense, said Jennifer Granick, a specialist on privacy issues at Stanford Law School.
The rule deals with how health care providers handle consumers’ health information.
“There’s nothing in HIPAA that prevents someone who’s not subject to HIPAA from taking photographs on the public streets,” Granick said. “HIPAA has absolutely nothing to say about that.”
Henderson’s case, the latest in a number of incidents involving citizens recording police officers, is now gaining national attention.
Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and media law at the University of Minnesota, told the Pioneer Press that she wished “the police around the country would get the memo on these situations.”
“Somebody needs to explain to them that under U.S. law, making video recordings of something that’s happening in public is legal,” she added. “Law enforcement has no expectation of privacy when they are carrying out public duties in a public place.”
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office is refusing to comment on the case, saying it involves an “ongoing investigation.”
However, he did specify that, “It is not our policy to take video cameras. It is everybody’s right to (record) … What happens out in public happens out in public.”
Henderson said he plans to see the case through if the charges against him aren’t dropped. In other words, he will not be accepting any plea deals.
“I’m in the right,” he said. “If they don’t drop it, I’m definitely going to trial.”