Camera crew not liable for taping police raid
MISSOURI–A television station’s camera crew did not violate the civil rights of a family by videotaping a police raid at their residence, a federal judge in St. Louis ruled in late October. However, the judge found that the police sergeant and two officers who let the news crew inside the home had violated the family’s Fourth Amendment rights.
U.S. District Court Judge Donald Stohr of St. Louis dismissed the family’s suit against KSDK-TV, saying that the station has no liability to the family because the news crew had not conspired with the police to tape the search and seizure.
“The television crew was gathering news; police were executing a search warrant,” Judge Stohr said.
St. Louis police, accompanied by a KSDK reporter and camera crew, arrived at the residence of Travis Martin, a relative of the family, on the night of February 9, 1994, and began filming the search and seizure.
Sandra Parker and her 15-year-old daughter, who both lived in the house, sued the St. Louis Police Board, several police officers, and station owner Multi-Media KSDK, Inc., for violating their civil rights and invading their privacy.
KSDK later argued that the station had no prior knowledge that a search and seizure would be performed until they arrived on the scene. The station also argued that no one asked the camera crew to leave the premises and that the police placed no limitations on them regarding conduct or photography.
The tape shot by KSDK was aired on local news broadcasts several times in early February and May 1994 as a part of a news series examining police efforts against illegal weapons.
Frank Susman, the family’s lawyer, said he was dissatisfied with the judge’s ruling that KSDK was not liable because the camera crew and the police were at the home for different reasons. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the news crew and police arrived in the same car and entered the home together. He said that no family member was charged with a crime, but viewers could draw erroneous conclusions from what they witnessed on camera.
In ruling for the Parkers on their claim against the police, Stohr relied on a December 1992 New York federal court decision holding that a woman could sue Secret Service agents and postal inspectors who allowed a CBS crew to accompany them into her apartment in a credit card fraud investigation. The New York court said that the television crew had “no greater right than that of a thief” to enter the home of Tawa Ayeni and her four-year-old daughter.
KSDK lawyer Mary Ann Wymore told the Post-Dispatch that she is troubled by the mixed ruling because it does not establish any clear guidelines. “Police might become unwilling to let reporters accompany officers under any circumstances or restrict crime-scene access to reporters who arrive independently,” she said.
According to the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Police spokesman Charles Poole said that without special permission, the department no longer allows reporters to have cameras while riding with officers.
Susman said he would appeal Stohr’s decision regarding KSDK’s liability. (Parker v. Multi-Media KSDK, Inc.; Media Counsel: Mary Ann Wymore, St. Louis)