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Eighth Circuit: Citizens do not have a right to film public officials in public

A Columbia lawyer says he will take his client's first amendment case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Matthew Akins, and any other citizen, has no right to record the actions of public officials such as the police, even when they are in public places.

In a free speech ruling that contradicts six other federal circuit courts, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a district court ruling that says Americans do not have a first amendment right to videotape the police, or any public official, in public.

The court of appeals filed the opinion July 25.

The case stemmed from a lawsuit brought by Matthew Akins of Columbia, who has had numerous run-ins with police as he attempted to videotape them pulling cars over and making arrests. Akins was typically standing on public property such as a street or sidewalk while videotaping the encounters. Akins was videotaping the encounters on behalf of a group called Citizens for Justice, which he founded in 2010.

According to his lawyer, Stephen Wyse of Columbia, Akins was threatened numerous times for his actions, his employer was hassled, and he was ordered to stop videotaping by police on several occasions. He had charges filed against him, many of which were later dropped, according to the Eighth Circuit ruling.

Akins sued Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight and several Columbia police officers, citing violations of his First, Second, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.


Judge Nanette Laughrey ruled that Akins, and by extension, any citizen or the press, has no right to record the activities of public officials on public property. The Eighth Circuit affirmed this ruling.

Wyse has filed a motion for the Eighth Circuit Court to reconsider its ruling. If it refuses, Wyse said he will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal the ruling this fall.

He said that right now, the seven states of the Eighth Circuit do not have the same first amendment rights that all other citizens enjoy. "The First Amendment is a core American value," he said. "The right to free speech and a free press are central to our liberty and our ability to hold our government accountable."

The National Press Photographers' Association took exception to this story, posting this to it's website:

"The 8th Circuit ruled on the case but not on the right to record police in public. On 8/2/16 the lower federal court only found that the plaintiff "has no constitutional right to videotape any public proceedings he wishes to." She also cited a 2004 8th Circuit case holding that “Neither the public nor the media has a First Amendment right to videotape, photograph, or make audio recordings of government proceedings that are by law open to the public" (emphasis added). This is far different from the right to record police performing their official duties in a traditionally public forum (street or park) and only applies to the jurisdiction of the federal trial court not the full 8th Circuit. Akins is now seeking an en banc review or motion for rehearing of the 7/25/27 8th Circuit ruling which basically dealt with affirming the lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the defendants and also affirming the denial by the trial court judge of the motion for her to recuse herself from the case. The First, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have all ruled that the right to record police officers performing their official duties in a public place is clearly established which will negate a claim of qualified immunity by police."

Columbia City Counselor Nancy Thompson says the original district court ruling has nothing to do with the public's right to film public officials such as the police. However, she declined to comment further because the case is still pending.

KRCG stands by the facts of the story.


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