On July 5, Susan Greene, a veteran reporter and editor for The Colorado Independent, was driving through Denver when she noticed what she described as “police surrounding a nearly naked African American man sitting handcuffed on the sidewalk.” Having written “extensively” about police brutality in the past, she decided to pull over and film what was happening on her phone.
Susan Greene is a lady, a mom, a kick ass journalist, and a human being. Bravo, woman.
— JohnAloysiusFarrell (@jaloysius) August 29, 2018
As she approaches the officers, she’s immediately cut off from filming by Officer James Brooks, who is quickly joined by Officer Adam Paulsen. Both attempt to block her sightline and tell her she cannot record what’s happening “because doing so violates the HIPAA rights of the nearly naked man they have cuffed.”
This reporter was told to 'act like a lady' while police arrested her for recording video in public
Posted by NowThis Her on Wednesday, August 29, 2018
HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the law which protects an individual’s right to medical privacy.
Greene responded somewhat testily:
There’s also a First Amendment. Have you heard of it?
The officers begin telling Greene:
Step away, or you’ll be arrested for interference.
Their warnings became even more urgent as Greene tried to capture their badge numbers on video. Moments after warning her once again, the officers put Greene in handcuffs and told her:
Stand up straight. Act like a lady.
Greene says what any woman would think:
Are you f**king kidding me? Act like a lady?
To which the officers respond:
There you go. Now you can go to jail.
As the police lead Greene to their vehicle, she repeatedly complains they are hurting her, which they claim is a result of her resisting their arrest. She was held in the police car for roughly 12 minutes before being released, after which she asked for her arresting officer’s badge numbers and they asked for her press badge.
Denver cops finally release body-cam video showing they arrested Indy editor Susan Greene for doing her job — taking photos of scene where officers had detained a near-naked man on the street. This is pretty clearly a First Amendment violation. #copolitics https://t.co/9XGuL6PpkP
— Michael Littwin (@mike_littwin) August 29, 2018
District Attorney Beth McCann later called Greene to inform her the city would not be pressing charges against the two officers, according to a post in the Colorado Independent:
(McCann) said a charge of false imprisonment wasn’t an option because there’s an exemption for cops. And she said her office likely would have a tough time convincing a jury that Brooks assaulted me.
I asked McCann about her take on the incident beyond the question of criminality. “I don’t know that he knew you were a journalist, for one thing,” she said. “But people are entitled to take pictures as long as people are not” getting in the way of police. She added that Brooks’ “act like a lady” comment “was a little unnecessary.” And she said we’ll likely be hearing something from Hancock’s administration now that she has made her decision not to prosecute.
What was said during the first 30 seconds of Greene’s encounter with the officers is unclear (including whether or not she identified herself as press). When a police officer activates his or her body cam, it will automatically include the prior 30 seconds of video, but audio only begins recording when the officer turns the camera on, which is why many body cam videos feature lengthy portions of silence.
It would be nice to hear @DenverPolice explain how taking pictures/video constitutes interference in an investigation, particularly when there does not appear to have been an investigation going on
— Jose Quinones (@egravy1234) August 29, 2018
Denver Police Department spokesman Jay Casillas claims an internal investigation into the officer’s actions is ongoing, though Mari Newman, a lawyer for Greene and The Independent, may not wait to take legal action against the police department:
The one thing we’ve seen over and over again is the city drag its feet for months and months and months in doing an internal investigation. Certainly we’re not going to sit on our hands while the city takes its sweet time to investigate an event that took a matter of minutes. If we need to file a legal action to hold the city accountable, so be it.
Susan WAS acting like a lady. A badass journalist lady. ????
— Jamey Trotter (@ProfTrotter) August 29, 2018
She also had something to say about the officers’ assertion that Greene could not film due to HIPAA:
HIPAA does not apply to an individual on the street. It’s designed to protect private medical information — for example, information that a medical provider or an insurance company might have about a patient. HIPAA does not impose any obligations on a private individual walking around on the street.
“HIPAA supersedes the first amendment” ??? LOL
— Dave McKinley (@DaveMcKinley2) August 29, 2018
Greene, for one, is glad the body cam footage of her encounter has finally been released:
It squares exactly like how I remember it. The only thing I didn’t realize is that when it was happening, both of the police officers told me to act like a lady, which raises the question: How exactly should a lady act when being wrongly detained on a public sidewalk for exercising First Amendment rights?
Just spoke with Susan Greene, the Colorado editor who was detained by police while reporting: "I didn't want to be pushed around." Here's a sneak peek from the upcoming @Poynter story and media roundup. Sign up here: https://t.co/Lc2SA2Kodh pic.twitter.com/2KCCsuquHB
— David Beard (@dabeard) August 30, 2018