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The District of Columbia is facing a lawsuit that could have national implications.
Several D.C. police officers violated a young man's constitutional rights when he tried to photograph them last summer, according to the ACLU. Officers lied when they told a photography student he needed permission to take their pictures.
The ACLU believes that with cell phone technology getting better, some police are getting worried that their actions will be preserved and used against them in ways that weren't possible just a few years ago.
Jerome Vorus, 20, was a photography student walking through Georgetown in July 2010 when he saw a traffic stop and decided to snap some picture for his portfolio. After taking a few minutes of taking pictures from the sidewalk on both sides of the street, he was asked to stop shooting and to show identification.
"They told me to put the camera away, to stop audio recording and that I am being detained ... and that it is unlawful within the District to photograph and audio record police officers without prior consent," Vorus said.
"That's part of our right of free speech, and the police ought to know that citizens can do that just as the police can take pictures of citizens out on the street," said Arthur Spitzer, of the ACLU.
The ACLU filed suit in U.S. District Court Thursday morning saying that since Vorus wasn’t interfering with police work, the officers violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.
By holding Vorus for about an hour, police violated D.C. law, Spitzer said.
"As long as she was holding on to his ID, he was not free to just walk away," he said.
"They're nuts to detain someone simply on the basis that they're taking photos and the police doesn't like it,” Vorus said. “It’s outrageous."
Vorus said when he began recording audio of his exchange with police, he was told that also was against the law in D.C. Under D.C. law, only one person needs to consent to a recording, Spitzer said.
The lawsuit seeks compensation and punitive damages.
"I want to see police around the country know that photography is not a basis for detainment -- it is not unlawful -- and to stop harassing and abusing their authority," Vorus said.
Attorney General Irvin Nathan has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. He said he has not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment.