On May 3, 2014, we attempted to record an Urban Shield training drill in Boston. The drill we attempted to record was police practicing what to do if a bomb went off at an MBTA station. The event took place in a public place, was open to media, and even had a sign posted nearby which said “Observer Check In.” Despite this, we were threatened with arrest by Boston police simply for standing and recording on a public sidewalk across the street from the drill and were ultimately removed from the area.
When we arrived to record the drill, Boston police officer Michael Principe pointed out an area of the street that was blocked off by yellow police tape and told Andrew that he could not go inside. A few minutes later, when Andrew tried to cross the street outside the taped off area to get a better shot, Principe threatened to arrest him for “trespassing.” Principe demanded that Andrew leave the area completely. When Andrew declined to leave, Principe stood inches away from Andrew in an attempt to intimidate him, but now said Andrew could stand on the sidewalk (which Andrew was already doing). Andrew asked Principe to step back from him, but Principe refused. Instead of respecting Andrew’s personal space, Principe started telling Andrew to leave again.
Andrew refused to leave and asked Principe to see his photo ID card several times. Principe refused to show his ID card even though state law requires police to show their IDs if it is requested of them. We both asked Principe to get his supervisor, but Principe refused, saying his supervisor was busy with the drill.
Eventually Principe walked away and we were able to record the training exercise for some time without incident. We saw actors covered in fake blood exit the cordoned off area yelling that a bomb had gone off and calling for help. The actors appeared to be heading towards ambulances, but were instead grabbed and detained by police officers who frisked them and searched their bags, a sight that we found very troubling.
We wondered why the police appeared to be training to detain bombing victims and impede their access to medical treatment. Was the lesson learned from the Boston Marathon bombing really that too many bombing victims were able to get to medical attention without first being intercepted by the police?
Later, we were able to get Principe to get his supervisor, Sergeant Christopher Connolly. Connolly refused to tell Principe to show us his ID card. Instead, Connolly told us we weren’t allowed to record what was going on because he didn’t want “bad guys knowing how we train.” He asked (but did not order) us to leave several times and Andrew declined. Connolly then told Principe to arrest both Andrew and Maya (even though Maya hadn’t declined to leave). Andrew asked why and Connolly claimed we were interfering with the training which was absurd considering we were standing across the street from where the training was happening and we had been recording it for quite some time before Connolly decided we were interfering.
It is also worth pointing out that, prior to Connolly telling Principe to arrest us, he had merely requested that Andrew leave. He never claimed that it was illegal to be on the sidewalk prior to authorizing our arrests.
Additionally, it turns out that there is no law against “interfering” with a police officer in Massachusetts. According to an article published last year by the Massachusetts Bar Association, there is no law against interfering or obstructing a police officer in Massachusetts nor is there a common law basis for an interfering or obstructing a police officer charge:
Consistent with that premise, the courts adhere to the longstanding common law rule that prohibits the judicial creation of new common law crimes. In exercising restraint, the Supreme Judicial Court has said, “[t]he public policy of the commonwealth in the creation of crimes is not for this court to determine, but for the Legislature.”
Without being able to authentically establish interference with a police officer as a crime in case law, custom, usage, or tradition, a judge who gives jury instructions outlining the elements of interference with a police officer is making the law rather than following it.
Connolly backed down from having us arrested and instead led us off of the supposedly off-limits sidewalk and into the street where Andrew had been told he couldn’t stand earlier, while making the bizarre claim that we couldn’t stand on a public sidewalk because vehicles would be passing through. He told us we would have to stand on a different street where our view of the training was blocked by construction equipment, making it impossible for us to record what was going on. We left under duress because we didn’t want to have to deal with being arrested, even though we knew the arrests would have been wrongful.
Our attempt to record on a public street was ultimately thwarted by extremely hostile and threatening Boston police officers who used of multiple baseless arrest threats to coerce us. It seems that the Boston police department still haven’t learned their lesson even after paying out more than $200,000 in legal settlements to Simon Glik and Maury Paulino, both of whom were were falsely arrested for recording Boston police officers in public.
According to The Boston Herald, Michael Principe and Christopher Connolly were paid $143,819.95 and $199,660.90 respectively in taxpayer money last year. Despite collectively being paid more than a third of a million dollars last year, these two officers can’t respect peoples’ right to stand on public sidewalks or follow simple laws about showing ID cards, nor would they allow basic First Amendment-protected journalistic activity.