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Filming "perp walks" not an invasion of privacy

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  1. Libel and Privacy

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Filming “perp walks” not an invasion of privacy

  • The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York says the public’s interest in law enforcement outweighs alleged criminals’ right to privacy.

Sep. 12, 2003 — Alleged perpetrators’ right to privacy is not violated during the videotaping of their arrest, ruled the federal appeals court in New York (2nd Cir.) on Tuesday.

On July 12, 1999, law enforcement officers videotaped the arrests of Joseph Freeman, Rocco Caldarola and James Santerello, former and current New York Department of Corrections officers, for disabilities benefits fraud. Journalists later filmed Freeman in a squad car in front of a New York courthouse and during what is commonly known as the “perp walk,” when police officers lead an accused criminal in handcuffs to a courthouse, police station or jail for the benefit of the media.

Freeman and Caldarola have since been acquitted of all charges.

The three men sued Westchester County, alleging that their constitutional rights were violated by the County “videotaping them post-arrest, choreographing their arrests to facilitate videotaping, distributing the videotape to the media, and advising the media of their impending ‘perp walks’ to the courthouse for arraignment.”

In March 2001, New York District Court Judge Colleen McMahon ruled in favor of the county, dismissing the argument that the corrections officers’ perp walk was a staged event.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, saying that while the filming of a perp walk may reflect the media’s interest in entertainment value, “perp walks also serve the more serious purpose of educating the public about law enforcement efforts . . . and it may deter others from attempting similar crimes.” Furthermore, the court stated, the filming of the officers did not fall under the category of unreasonable search and seizure.

(Freeman v. The County of Westchester; Counsel: Robert David Goodstein, Goodstein & West) AS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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