A bill protecting people’s right to film or photograph S.C. police officers without threat of arrest advanced Tuesday to the Senate floor, where it’s already being held up.
The measure, overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, follows the death last April of an unarmed black motorist in North Charleston. The white officer quickly was charged with murder after a bystander’s video showed him repeatedly shooting Walter Scott in the back as he ran away.
State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, said his proposal protects bystanders from arrest or intimidation if they are filming from a public place. Filming of officers has become routine nationwide anyway, and people should not be threatened to stop or give up their camera.
The proposal also specifies officers can’t search, damage or destroy the camera.
“This gives citizens another element of protection because if they do it, it belongs to them,” Malloy said.
Some senators said they support the concept but were concerned about the possibility of bystanders getting too close.
“I don’t have a bit of problem if someone’s from a reasonable distance,” said Judiciary chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens. “But if they intrude into that officer’s space and the person just won’t back away, are we real clear this won’t put someone right under the arms of the officer trying to make an arrest?”
Malloy said the law already covers such scenarios, which fall under the definition of hindering, preventing or obstructing a law enforcement officer. His proposal specifies people are exempt from that charge if they’re filming from a place they have a right to be standing.
“They can’t interfere with the officer,” Malloy said.
A floor vote on the bill may be weeks away.
State Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Greenville, put a “minority report” on the bill after voting against it, blocking floor debate. Afterward, he said he wanted to “slow it down” to make sure the wording addresses senators’ concerns.
But Corbin said he is not against the bill, “as long as it doesn’t put law enforcement in jeopardy.”