BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — The issue of the legality of recording law enforcement was addressed this week in the Florida court system.
A state appeals court ruled Wednesday against a mother who was arrested following a 2009 incident where she filmed police outside a Boynton Beach movie theater.
The confrontation occurred after Sharron Tasha Ford was called to the Muvico Theater by police after her son was caught trespassing.
Several clips of the video add up to more than 15 minutes of video that show Ford and officers debate the incident.
According to a ruling from Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal, Ford began to record police when she arrived at the scene.
"Officers made numerous requests to the (mother) to stop recording them, which she ignored. The plaintiff was confrontational in her approach and refused to comply with the officers' instructions," the ruling says.
She was booked for intercepting oral communications and obstruction without violence, but no charges were ever filed.
Ford then filed a complaint against the city of Boynton Beach and the officers on the grounds of false arrest, declaratory relief and violating her civil rights.
The civil rights claims were later dismissed but the other claims were sent to state court.
A trial court later found that police "had a subjective and reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications" and that Ford lied about recording police and obstructed them in detaining her son.
The case was appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, who this week ruled to uphold the lower court's ruling in favor of police.
"A review of the recorded incident reveals the plaintiff’s approach to the officers was designed to impede what should have been a short, uneventful exchange of her son's custody," the ruling stated.
This week's ruling goes on to say Ford "consistently and persistently failed to comply with the officers' direction and requests" and obstructed their investigation.
The court said she was impeding on "what should have been a short, uneventful exchange of her son's custody."
Former Boca Raton police chief and police consultant Andrew Scott said the arrest stands because of how Ford was interacting with the officers.
"That created the officers to be diverted away from the officer dealing with her son," Scott said.
Scott said Ford filming the incident was not the issue in this case, and it is not illegal to film officers. However, people can be arrested if they get involved in the situation.
"Be seen, not heard," Scott said. "Both physically or verbally or both."
Scott said most officers are being recorded these days anyway with body cameras. In Palm Beach County, almost all police departments have body cameras.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's office, the largest department without body cameras, asked to buy them in 2020.
Ford's attorney, Samuel Alexander of Alexander Appellate Law, disagreed with Wednesday's ruling.
"She was basically arrested for being a concerned mother and for filming the police, which is her First Amendment Right," Alexander said. "We're disappointed with the Fourth's majority opinion, which strayed from the court's own precedent to affirm on a narrow ground. We agree with Judge [Martha] Warner's strong dissent that under the well-established law in Florida there was no probable cause for arrest. We are considering our next steps."
He said the ruling could set a precedent that recording police could get you arrested.
"At what point does it cross the line?" Alexander asked. "Her videotaping did not obstruct what the officer was doing."
Alexander said people should be able to live in a society where citizens are permitted to record police performing their public duties, referencing the recording of the George Floyd murder.
The Boynton Beach Police Department released the following statement on the ruling:
The City of Boynton Beach is pleased with the appellate court's measured decision. The decision confirms that Boynton Beach police officers acted in accordance with Florida law. We note that the court found probable cause for the plaintiff’s arrest for obstruction without violence.
Read the full ruling below: