1st amendment lawyer: DPS erred in blocking reporter filming arrests

By Kolten Parker
Posted July 15, 2013

In a public building with no restrictions on filming, Department of Public Safety officers blocked me and other reporters from filming the arrest of four abortion rights activists at the state Capitol Friday.

A DPS officer moves reporter Kolten Parker away from the scene of arrest in the state Capitol July 12.

At least 280 DPS officers were charged with containing thousands of protesters while maintaining a level of decorum in the senate required to have a debate and vote on House Bill 2, the controversial abortion omnibus bill. They accomplished their task with a minimum amount of arrests (12) and mishaps.

But, they allowed one woman to smuggle a chain and padlock through multiple searches (including a metal detector). She chained herself to the railing, but was cut free and detained with three other protesters who had created a disturbance.

I saw the officers carrying the woman into a hallway behind the gallery, so I ran for the elevator while other members of the media took the stairs.

The door at the top of the steps was locked and troopers stood with their backs to the glass wall, so those who had taken the steps could not see the arrests.

Because I took the elevator, I was in the hallway with officers. Standing five feet away so I would not interfere with the arrest, I filmed the protesters lying limp on their bellies and not fighting as troopers zip-tied their wrists. (The 50-second video of the arrests is here.)

More officers arrived and one told me to move away.

When I questioned him, citing no restrictions on filming in a public building, and showing him my press badge, he began to push me away from the officers. I continued to affirm my right to film in a public building and showing him my press badge, which was visible the entire time.

He never said I was interfering with the arrests, or provided a specific reason for me being moved away, other than he was doing his job, to which I responded, “So am I.”

Officers arrest three protesters as reporter Kolten Parker films them, five feet away, prior to being moved away by an officer.

The officer moved me about 25 feet away from the arrests. He said I could continue filming, but I was using an iPhone and could not see or film the protesters through the wall of troopers.

A DPS official is researching the agency’s policy on filming arrests and this post will updated as soon as a response is received.

Charles Daughtry, a Houston lawyer who specializes in First Amendment rights, questioned the incident.

“I think you absolutely have the right to film in there,” he said. “Conceivably they have the right to get you where you’re not interfering with anything but they can’t arbitrarily set a distance in which they keep you away, if you being closer would not be interfering with police activity.

It sounds like they had the scene firmly under control,” he continued. “And it doesn’t get any more in the public’s interest than that.”