Damages reduced in case over taping of public meeting
MASSACHUSETTS–In late March, a federal District Court judge in Boston eliminated $135,000 in punitive damages from a $210,000 judgment awarded to a cable television reporter who was falsely arrested for videotaping discussions following a public town hall meeting in 1991.
Judge Patti Saris reasoned that the arrest of Richard Iacobucci was a “mistake,” and that police sergeant Willard Boulter did not act recklessly or with malice in arresting him. Therefore, punitive damages were not justified, she ruled. Saris upheld a $75,000 compensatory damage award — the first time, according to The Boston Globe, that damages have been awarded for a violation of the public’s right to videotape a meeting pursuant to the state open meetings law.
The case arose out of a confrontation between Iacobucci and members of the Pembroke Historic District Commission at a meeting in March 1991. Iacobucci, a former member of the commission, said he was videotaping the meeting to air as part of his local cable access news show, “The Glass Cyclops.”
According to the court’s account, several commission members complained that Iacobucci was disrupting the meeting by taping too close to participants and asked him to move his camera. Iacobucci refused, explaining that if he were to reposition his camera, he would not be able to see the faces of the participants. Officials eventually called the police, and after Iacobucci refused the police officers’ requests to stop taping, they left and he taped the rest of the meeting.
After the meeting was adjourned, Iacobucci saw commission members talking in the hall. Believing that this was a continuation of the meeting discussion about commercial development plans in violation of the state open meetings law, Iacobucci began taping the hallway meeting and refused to stop when asked. A confrontation ensued, police were called to the scene, Iacobucci was arrested and his camera was confiscated. While he was in police custody, the videotape was erased.
The Wareham District Court ordered a not-guilty verdict on the disorderly conduct and disruption charges in 1993. The following year, Iacobucci filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boston alleging false arrest.
In September 1996, a federal District Court jury found Boulter had falsely arrested Iacobucci and awarded $75,000 in compensatory and $135,000 in punitive damages.
In eliminating the punitive damages award, Judge Saris said that even though Boulter violated Iacobucci’s civil rights, Boulter did not use excessive force. Moreover, “Boulter admirably attempted to defuse the situation prior to the arrest, and no evidence was presented at trial to show that Boulter harbored malice toward Iacobucci.”
Iacobucci contends that he had an absolute right to tape what he considered an illegal hallway meeting. Both Iacobucci and Boulter plan to appeal, according to the Boston Globe. (Iacobucci v. Town of Pembroke; Media Counsel: pro se)