We represent Keith Golden, a retired U. S. Army Staff Sergeant who served in the Army for 23 years with an unblemished record, including service both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On June 2, 2016, Golden was peacefully and unobtrusively video recording the exterior of the City of Wetumpka Police Department (“WPD”) while standing on a public sidewalk. Golden was approached by WPD officers who demanded to know who he was and what he was doing.
Golden handed an officer a copy of a court case which held that citizens have a First Amendment right to film police officers in public. Rejecting the document, the officer told Golden, “I don’t care about your First Amendment rights.”
Against Golden’s protestations, the officer jerked the camera from Golden and turned off the camera. For his own protection, Golden had his cell phone camera on, which recorded the full interaction. The cell phone was recording from his chest on a lanyard. It appears the officer was unaware of the cell phone recording the interaction. Golden became even more worried because the officer kept repeating, “I don’t know if you are a terrorist.”
After the June 2nd incident, Golden posted his video of the encounter with the WPD on his “Bama Camera” YouTube page. The YouTube page showed the publicly listed, non-emergency phone number of the WPD, along with e-mail addresses of the WPD Detective Division, the mayor and the assistant to the mayor.
After viewing Golden’s video online, and without any urging from Golden, the group Photography Is Not A Crime! published an article with the City’s publicly available phone numbers and a link to the WPD’s Facebook page. Individuals throughout the country began calling the Department and commenting on the City’s Facebook page to complain about the WPD officers’ actions in regard to Golden.
Purportedly because of the number of calls regarding the WPD officers’ actions, the police chief made the decision to shut down the phone lines but he blamed Golden for this action. In addition, the WPD deleted unfavorable public comments that were posted on the department’s Facebook page and then disabled the entire Facebook page after receiving so many negative comments.
The chief then had Golden arrested and brought criminal charges against him – “Interference with Public Safety Communication” – a felony with the potential of ten years in prison. On July 15, 2016, a grand jury, after considering the facts, declined to issue an indictment, instead issuing a no bill regarding the criminal charge.
We have filed a civil rights action alleging First Amendment retaliation, Fourth Amendment violations (seizure of property, malicious prosecution, false arrest, excessive use of force) and state law tort claims. We have sued the City of Wetumpka, the Chief of Police, and a police officer seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages against the individuals.