(The Hill) — The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a North Carolina town’s policy that allegedly banned video live-streaming police during traffic stops was in violation of the First Amendment.
The ruling stated that Dijon Sharpe was live-streaming his traffic stop on Facebook Live when police officer Myers Helms attempted to take his phone away because he said live-streaming threatened his safety. Sharpe then sued the Winterville police officers in their official capacity for having a policy that violates the First Amendment and also sued Helms individually.
The district court did not find that the policy violated the First Amendment and dismissed the individual complaint against Helms under qualified immunity, according to the ruling.
The appeals court vacated the district court’s order, ruling that if such a policy exists that bans video live-streaming, it does violate the First Amendment. The ruling said that live-streaming police encounters provide information the same way recording police officers does.
“Recording police encounters creates information that contributes to discussion about governmental affairs,” the ruling said. “So too does live-streaming disseminate that information, often creating its own record. We thus hold that live-streaming a police traffic stop is speech protected by the First Amendment.”
The court ruled that Sharpe’s claim can proceed, but that he must now prove that the alleged policy banning live-streaming exists in Winterville. If he can prove it, the town will then have a chance to prove it does not violate the First Amendment, the ruling reads.
The appeals court did hold up the district court’s ruling that dismissed the individual complaint against Helms and said that Helms is protected under qualified immunity, which is a rule that protects police officers from being held individually liable unless the officer clearly violates a constitutional right. Sharpe argued that it was “clearly established” that Helms violated his First Amendment rights, but the court disagreed and said the officer was “entitled” to qualified immunity.
“On the other hand, although Officer Helms was allegedly acting under the policy that plausibly violates the First Amendment, Sharpe’s claim against him in his personal capacity fails,” the ruling reads. “It was not clearly established that Officer Helms’s actions violated Sharpe’s First Amendment rights and so he is protected by qualified immunity.”