Boston settles lawsuit alleging police falsely arrested and beat teenager for recording officers with his cell phone

The city of Boston paid $33,000 last week to settle a civil rights lawsuit our office filed on behalf of Maury Paulino last November. The lawsuit alleged that after Mr. Paulino used his cell phone to legally record four Boston police officers, the officers punched, kneed, and pepper-sprayed him in the face, then arrested him and charged him with violating the wiretapping statute and other charges.

On November 18, 2009, Mr. Paulino (19 at the time) was outside the B2 station after bailing out a friend. Mr. Paulino saw officers mistreating his friend, so he began to record the incident with his phone. Mr. Paulino did not interfere with the officers’ actions, but Officer Seth Richard arrested him and brought him to the ground. Officer Richard punched and kneed Mr. Paulino in the face and sprayed him with pepper spray. Officers Nicolas Onishuk, Richard Davis and James Moore assisted or stood by without preventing this unreasonable force. The officers brought criminal charges against Mr. Paulino, including disorderly conduct, wiretapping, and assaulting a police officer. He was found not guilty at trial.

The right to record police officers has become an issue of increasing importance. In another one of our recent lawsuits against Boston police, Glik v. Cunniffe, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that the First Amendment protects the right to record police officers in public spaces performing their official duties. That case settled in March for $170,000. In May, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) provided detailed guidelines on how a police department should ensure that police officers respect civilians’ First Amendment right to record them. Among other things, the DOJ condemned the practice of giving officers unlimited discretion to arrest people recording their actions based on bogus charges that the person recording was interfering with police duties. This is exactly what the officers falsely claimed Mr. Paulino was doing.

Mr. Paulino’s lawsuit included a claim against the City of Boston for failing to supervise and discipline officers for their pattern of unlawful arrests for recording them. The City’s tacit approval of this misconduct permitted officers to feel that they could arrest people who recorded their conduct without fear of punishment. Attorney David Milton states, “The First Amendment right to record police is an essential tool to ensure that police are accountable to the public they serve. Boston must train its police officers to respect this fundamental liberty, or the City will continue to spend taxpayer money on lawsuits.”

“I hope this settlement teaches the police not to arrest people for recording them. Police officers should get used to being recorded in public. I was recording the police to make sure they didn’t hurt my friend. I didn’t expect the police would hit me and arrest me for recording them,” says Mr. Paulino. His cell phone video is available here.

The lawsuit sought money damages for violations of Mr. Paulino’s First and Fourth Amendment rights. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court in Boston, is called Maury Paulino v. Seth D. Richard, Nicolas Onishuk, Richard Davis, Sgt. James Moore, and the City of Boston (C.A. No. 1:11-cv-11940).

Read articles about this case in the Boston Metro and Fox 25 News.  

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