FORT SMITH — Following a lawsuit that claimed a deputy arrested a man for filming law enforcement executing a search warrant, the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office adopted a written policy on how deputies should respond to people recording/videoing deputies.

FORT SMITH — Following a lawsuit that claimed a deputy arrested a man for filming law enforcement executing a search warrant, the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office adopted a written policy on how deputies should respond to people recording/videoing deputies.


The four-page policy reminds deputies that citizens have the First Amendment right to film or take video of law enforcement activity in a lawful manner, and they are prohibited from: attempting to intimidate or coerce someone into ceasing, obstructing their ability to do so or even discouraging them from engaging in recording law enforcement.


The policy also gives guidance on when obstruction, hindering or interference arrests could be appropriate:


• When a person through their actions creates a safety risk to an officer, suspect or the public.


• When the person enters a clearly marked crime scene without authorization.


• When the person enters an area clearly marked because of an ongoing emergency and closed to the public.


• When the person is on private property without the authorization of the property owner, after determining the wishes of the property owner.


Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck, in a deposition for the lawsuit, said it was an issue raised for the first time when Braden Purcell sued Cpl. Bryan Fuller, claiming Fuller arrested him for taking photos/video of a search warrant being served and suppressed evidence of his action by failing to return his phone.


Fuller denied the allegations but recently settled the lawsuit for $40,000 plus attorney fees and costs.


Bill Sadler, spokesman for the Arkansas State Police, in an emailed response, said the state police department doesn’t have a written policy on the issue.


"The Arkansas State Police does not prohibit individuals from using any type of camera to record a state trooper during the course of the trooper’s duties which may occur in the public domain, unless the presence of the person operating the camera impedes the duties of the trooper or exigent life-threatening circumstances are in play that may jeopardize a safe resolution of the incident," Sadler said.


Sadler declined to provide an example of what behavior might meet that criteria.


Sgt. Daniel Grubbs, Fort Smith police spokesman, said the Fort Smith Police Department doesn’t have a written policy.


"That debate has been a topic of discussion a few times in the past several years, but it is definitely a case-by-case basis. It’s understood that First Amendment rights are at play here, and enforcement action would only occur when the videoing directly interferes with the actions of the officer creating a safety issue for any involved, or any other law is violated (i.e. trespassing) when the filming occurs," Grubbs said in an emailed response.


Phil Lynn, manager of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Policy Management Center, said IACP has a model policy on the matter available for law enforcement agencies and the IACP is working on a national training program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.