Minn. man on trial for filming police, medics with patient
He's being charged with interfering with emergency medical care, but says he has the First Amendment right to record law enforcement personnel
By Richard Chin
LITTLE CANADA, Minn. — Andrew Henderson said he routinely carries a video camera with him and films police officers in their duties "to promote accountability."
But a prosecutor argued in Ramsey County District Court that the 29-year-old welder from Little Canada committed a crime when he filmed police and an ambulance crew taking a heavily intoxicated man away in an ambulance.
Henderson is accused of disorderly conduct and interfering with an ambulance crew in an Oct. 30, 2012, incident in which he was outside his apartment building on the 200 block of East County Road B2 shortly before midnight.
An ambulance crew and Ramsey County sheriff's deputies were called to the building to check on the welfare of an intoxicated man who also lived in the building, had been in a recent auto accident, had quit his job and wasn't answering or returning his sister's phone calls.
At his trial on the misdemeanor charges, which began Wednesday, Henderson testified that a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy told him "if she ended up on YouTube, she was going to be upset."
Henderson said he replied that he was not doing anything wrong, but the deputy took his video camera.
About a week later, he was cited on misdemeanor charges, he said. He said he wasn't able to get the camera back from the police for about three weeks after the incident. He said he thought he would be exonerated by the evidence from the video recording. But he said there was no video recording saved on the camera.
"I was extremely surprised," Henderson testified. "I knew I was recording that."
"I record just about every other day," he said.
Henderson's case has drawn the attention of civil liberties advocates. The Minneapolis-based law firm Fredrikson & Byron is providing free legal representation to Henderson in association with the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.
A handful of spectators in the audience at the trial included a blogger, a law student and a motorist who likes to record video from his vehicle's dashboard camera.
"It's the principle of it," Henderson said after opening statements in the case. "It's our First Amendment right to film law enforcement personnel."
But Kevin Beck, prosecuting the case for Little Canada, said Henderson is not being prosecuted for filming a police officer. He's being charged with interfering with emergency medical care.
Joshua Norgaard, an Allina Health Emergency Medical Services paramedic who was on the ambulance call that night, said that as the drunken man was being taken out of the building, Henderson was about three to four feet away, filming the emergency workers conducting a medical assessment and the police frisking the man.
"It caught my attention because he was so close," Norgaard said. He said he asked Henderson to stop filming.
"Part of my job as a paramedic is to be an advocate for the patient," Norgaard said. "I wanted to protect his privacy by not having him filmed."
Norgaard said Henderson refused.
"I've never had anybody tell me no. Everybody always puts their phone away," he said.
He said Henderson's actions delayed or impeded his ability to provide medical care to the drunken man and get him to the hospital.
But under questioning from Henderson's lawyer, Norgaard said Henderson never got between him and the drunken man or between the man and police.
And Henderson testified that Norgaard never asked him to stop filming.
Norgaard said he told sheriff's deputy Jacqueline Muellner about Henderson. She testified that "I took his camera basically for evidence."
"This person had a right to privacy," she said of the drunken man being put in the ambulance. She said she didn't have a problem with people filming police while working on a criminal matter.
But, she said, "This person is having a bad day. It doesn't need to be documented in that way."
She said Henderson refused to identify himself, and he insisted he had a right to film the incident. She said that when she left the scene, she checked the camera but wasn't able to see any recording.
But under a cross-examination, she admitted, "I didn't understand the camera."
Under questioning by Henderson's lawyer, Muellner also said she left the camera on the seat of her squad car overnight. She said it was then in her office mailbox for a period of time before being placed in a secure property locker a day or two after the incident.
After the testimony, Henderson's lawyer, Kevin Riach, asked Ramsey County District Judge Diane Alshouse to dismiss the case. Riach said that if there was any obstruction of medical care, it was created by the paramedic who stopped his work to complain to Henderson.
He argued that it is common for people to watch, film or gawk at emergencies, and that's not considered offensive conduct.
But Beck said Henderson forced Norgaard to interrupt the medical care after he refused a request to stop filming.
"It doesn't have to be a physical interruption. It has to have the effect of a physical interruption," Beck said.
Alshouse ruled that the case will go on.
The lawyers then sparred over whether instructions to the jury should refer to First Amendment protections and expectations of right to privacy and whether interfering with emergency workers means a physical interference. Closing arguments in the case are expected Thursday.
Henderson said prosecutors said he could have resolved the case by pleading guilty to a petty misdemeanor and paying a $50 fine.
But Henderson rejected the prosecution offer and insisted on a jury trial.
Riach is a senior associate with the Minneapolis-based Fredrikson & Byron law firm. Also at trial was John Lund-quist, a partner with the firm.
Little Canada was being represented by Beck and Joseph Kelly, attorneys with the firm Kelly & Lemmons of Little Canada.
During selection of the six jurors who will decide the case, Riach asked prospective jurors if they had strong feelings about individuals filming activities of police. Several prospective jurors said that would be acceptable or even helpful.
Beck then asked if their feelings would change if it was someone filming an emergency medical technician or an ambulance crew at work.
Before the jury started was seated, Beck said he wanted to be able to introduce evidence to challenge the credibility of potential testimony from Henderson because he had been discharged from the military under a less than honorable discharge and had faced a court-martial for desertion.
Riach objected, saying Beck's discharge was not evidence of a false statement. It was "just smear evidence to make him look bad in front of the jury," Riach said.
Alshouse disallowed evidence of Henderson's discharge.
Several people watching the case said they showed up because they are interested in the rights of citizens to film public officials.
"This is a test case," said Rex Johnson of New Brighton. "Videotaping is essential for holding people accountable for their actions."
Grace Kelly, who said she blogs for the MN Progressive Project website, said forbidding videotaping of emergency medical workers could prevent citizens or journalists from documenting injuries at protests.
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