An S.C. Senate bill that would protect citizens who video police actions in public places will be modified to make sure that police officers’ ability to make arrests unhindered are also protected, senators said Tuesday.
“What we want to clarify is that the citizen and bystander will have the right to photograph and film an officer making an arrest, but their doing so should not interfere with the arrest or in any way inhibit the officer’s ability to do his job,” said Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, a sponsor of the bill along with chief sponsor Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington.
The bill if passed into law would potentially affect just about every person in South Carolina, since so many people carry video cellphones and might be in a position to video a police action.
During a Tuesday meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is now considering the bill, senators said the bill was prompted by a report that the bystander who shot the April video of a North Charleston police officer shooting an African-American man in the back was fearful that there might be police retaliation.
“The intent of the bill is to give people some comfort to people in public places, where they have a right to be, to record these acts – which may be some evidence that prosecutors can use,” Kimpson told senators during the hearing. “It is not the intent to interfere with an arrest.”
But after hearing concerns from Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, that the bill’s language needed to modified, the Judiciary Committee voted to delay passage to the full Senate. The bill likely will come up in committee next week.
The topic of citizen cellphone videos of police actions has taken on heightened public interest in the past year. The North Charleston officer is now charged with murder, in large part because of the April video.
The bill before the Judiciary Committee would require that police not intentionally hinder, obstruct or prevent a person from taking photos if the officer were in a public place and the photographer were in a place where he had a right to be.
The bill would also prevent police from arresting, detaining or harassing the photographer and forbid police from searching or seizing the photograph or video.
Any officer violating the law would trigger grounds for a civil lawsuit against the officer and his department, the bill said.
Also, an officer charged with violating the law could be charged with a criminal misdemeanor, fined up to $3,000 and put in prison for up to three years.
Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said he didn’t anticipate any problem in getting the bill to the full Senate once the language is cleared up. However, since this year’s legislative session ends in June, the bill probably won’t be seriously considered in the House until January at the earliest.