An $85,000 legal settlement was reached Monday on behalf of a woman whose phone was seized while filming an arrest in Portland involving a Gresham police officer. The conclusion will effectively lead local law enforcement agencies to better train their officers to understand the public's constitutional right to film police activity.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon announced terms of the settlement between its client, Carrie Medina, and TriMet, the city of Portland and the city of Gresham during a press conference Monday, April 10, in downtown Portland.
"This settlement puts the police on notice as to what rights the public has," said Alan Galloway, counsel at Davis Wright Tremaine, who represented Medina. "This new training will help every officer understand the right to film the police."
Both cities named in the lawsuit have agreed to enact new policies and training that will better educate their officers on the public's right to film.
"Training was developed and implemented for officers," said Elizabeth Coffey, Gresham's communications manager. "We will move forward from here and are thankful the settlement is resolved."
Gresham's policy went into effect in May 2016, and Portland's came last October. Both departments have also incorporated new training that shows officers how to react to being filmed.
"If the cities don't do that, and we have another incident, we will sue them again," Galloway said.
The settlement will also have the city of Gresham pay $85,000 to Medina to cover legal expenses, because it was the city's officer who seized the phone. Because her lawyers covered the case pro-bono, and Medina said she wasn't interested in monetary gains, that money will go to the ACLU Foundation of Oregon.
"Today's settlement is a reminder to law enforcement agencies across the state," said Mat dos Santos, legal director of the ACLU of Oregon. "There is a public right to record the police."
The incident between Medina and a Gresham police officer, who was serving as a transit officer, occurred in 2013. Medina witnessed a young man being arrested by officers, and decided to livestream the encounter through her smartphone.
While filming, Medina was approached by Gresham police officer Taylor Letsis, who asserted he needed to see the video to determine whether there was any evidence of the crime. He went on to explain Medina had no choice, and eventually took the phone from her illegally without a subpoena or warrant, the ACLU said.
"Ma'am, do you want to hand me the phone or would you like to show it to me?," Letsis said on the video.
Medina refused, saying the officer needed a subpoena to seize the phone. In response, Medina said Letsis grabbed her arm, twisted it and held her until another officer walked over. Letsis watched the video, but there was no evidence relating to the arrest, so he returned the phone. At the time the Gresham Police Department backed its officer, saying he followed procedure.
"I was scared when the officer grabbed my phone out of my hands and twisted my arm, and I don't think a bystander should ever feel afraid of police," said Medina. "Videos like these are an important part of police accountability, and officers should always act like someone is filming."
At the time of the incident, Medina regularly filmed police activity and protests, describing herself as a citizen journalist and as a "camera of accountability." After the incident, Medina cofounded Film the Police Portland, an organization dedicated to increasing police accountability by filming police encounters in the Portland area.
"I am feeling hopeful with this settlement," Medina said. "This was a lot of work, to have your name drug through the media, but I feel like I was vindicated. Policies have changed and people are more aware."
The Outlook will update this story as more information is made available.