PHONE BACK IN HAND. VIDEO, TOO.
By BILLY COX
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.
A computer technician jailed for videotaping North Port police officers making an arrest is claiming vindication after prosecutors returned his smartphone camera and its 10-minute video sequence.
The recording appears to refute the North Port Police probable cause affidavit that stated Steve Horrigan was ordered "approximately 10-15 times to stop video/audio taping" during the incident in January.
Indeed, the footage on the returned camera shows the 57-year-old North Port man being told just once to stop recording. The video also suggests Horrigan was considerably farther away from the traffic stop than the "approximately 15 feet" noted in the official report.
"The video proves everything I was saying, except maybe about the distance," said Horrigan, who was charged with felony eavesdropping and obstruction. "I was actually farther away from the scene than I thought."
North Port Police Capt. Robert Estrada said he had not reviewed the video, and said he could not comment on an active case.
The State Attorney's Office, which is considering whether to pursue the charges against Horrigan, did not return calls seeking comment.
The case drew significant attention from civil rights advocates who say Horrigan had a legal right to record police activity in a public place. Some experts said police who do not appreciate being recorded sometimes arresting people to get them to stop, even if the arrest is constitutionally questionable.
The North Port confrontation began at dusk on Jan. 25 when Horrigan becan recording a traffic stop at Herbison Street and Biscayne Drive, which borders his Emerald Oaks condo.
The driver was arrested on a probation violation, and the passenger was charged with possession of 2.25 grams of marijuana after police dogs were brought in to sniff and search.
Horrigan complied with the officer's initial orders to move back across the street. But the smartphone recorded the officer's additional remark: "You can take video and pictures if you really feel (it is) necessary, it's a free world, but I'm concerned for your safety."
Four minutes later, when Horrigan walked across Biscayne to get a better angle on the arrival of a canine unit, the officer declared, "It's illegal to videotape us." When Horrigan challenged him on this, he was arrested and spent the night in jail.
"They violated my constitutional rights, and they falsely arrested me," Horrigan said.
After seven weeks without his phone, Horrigan filed a motion last Thursday claiming the seizure of his footage was "prior restraint" because "it was always my intention to publish it on the Internet."
Early Tuesday, Horrigan said, a detective showed up at his door and told him he could retrieve his phone at police headquarters.
Estrada says prosecutors likely authorized the release of the phone after they made copies of the footage for evidence.
Although courts typically uphold the right to videotape police activity in the public domain, First Amendment advocates say law enforcement agencies across the country continue to make arrests.
"Most of them are well within their rights and get arrested for doing just what Steve did," said Mickey Osterreicher, legal counsel for the National Press Photographers Association in Durham, N.C. "In this case, I hope they realize they made a mistake, drop the charges and, at the very least, apologize."
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