Search “police beating” or “excessive force” on YouTube and you’ll find dozens of videos. A Seattle cop punches a woman in the face; three Maryland police officers beat a rowdy college student; and an Oakland transit officer fatally shoots an unarmed man in the back.
All of the videos were captured in public areas by bystanders with cell phone cameras. None recorded in Boston, but if so, the person with the recording device just might have been arrested.
“I remember saying ‘Oh my God,’ and ‘Wow’ because I just couldn’t believe my eyes,” says Boston attorney Simon Glik.
Glik was in Boston Common three years ago, walking to meet his wife after a job interview, when he noticed a commotion on a park bench. Glik says it appeared to him that three Boston officers were mistreating a 16-year-old boy suspected of drug activity.
“It looked like the kid was in real distress. It looked like the police officers were hurting the kid. I saw one of the officers choking the kid, I saw another officer punch the kid in the mouth,” Glik says.
He then says he pulled out his cell phone camera and began recording the latter half of the struggle from about ten feet away. He was only able to capture 15 seconds - the maximum time his phone allows him to record.
After the teen was in handcuffs, Glik told one of the cops he witnessed what he believed to be excessive force.
“One of the officers said, ‘Does your phone have audio, record audio?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, sure it does,” and then I was told ‘You’re under arrest,” Glik says.
He was charged with a felony, illegal wiretapping. The officer claimed Glik used his cell phone to secretly record the arrest, even though Glik says the phone was clearly visible in a public area.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, certainly not in 2007, that a phone has that capability,” says David Milton, a civil rights attorney with the Boston law office of Howard Friedman.
Milton says it’s illegal in Massachusetts to secretly record audio, but openly recording sound and video is a protected right in Massachusetts.
“When police misuse criminal laws to stifle that right and shield themselves from scrutiny, they violate a freedom that’s important to all of us,” Milton says.
Milton and the ACLU have filed a lawsuit against the city on Simon Glik’s behalf. It’s a case being watched closely. Several others have been arrested under similar circumstances in Boston.
Sam Bayard, the assistant director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard University’s Berkman Center, says the outcome of the Glik case may set a precedent.
“It doesn’t strike me as a problem that’s going to persist indefinitely with police arresting and the courts throwing out the charge,” Bayard says. “My sense is the police will adapt to the practice.”
A judge has thrown out the criminal charges against Simon Glik. The lawsuit he filed is pending. He says he became a lawyer to help defend others and he hopes he is able to do just that, while defending himself.
The City of Boston declined to speak to Fox 25 on camera about the Glik lawsuit. The law department did provide this statement:
“This matter is currently pending in United States District Court. The City of Boston has moved for dismissal of this matter in that court and before the First Circuit Court of Appeals. We therefore cannot comment on the substance of the proceedings.”