With the growing movement of citizens performing “First Amendment Audits” across the country you might think that there couldn’t possibly be a governmental or police agency who wasn’t aware that taking pictures or shooting video in public places is not only lawful activity but it is protected by the constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, even after years of YouTube videos showing law enforcement officials losing their minds when interacting with photographers, security officers from the Cook County Courthouse in Bridgeville Illinois have remained clueless to the rights of citizens there to take pictures and record in places they are legally entitled to be, especially the outside of courthouse.
On March 28th a photographer, who goes by the YouTube moniker Pink Camera Magic, showed up at the Cook County Courthouse to record video of the building. Video of the incident shows her on the sidewalk in front of the entrance doors and quietly documents the building. It wasn’t long before she was approached by courthouse security to ask what she was up to.
“Mam, can I ask what you’re doing,” The security officer say as he steps out of the doors to the courthouse.
The photographer responds calmly by telling the guard, “I’m recording the building.”
When the guard asks what her the purpose was, the photographer responds, “Because I want to.”
And while it is perfectly legal to take pictures or record everything we can see in public, and while the photographer is under no legal obligation to answer questions, the guard wastes no time calling for a supervisor to explain to the photographer that she is filming a public building.
“Yes, that’s exactly why I’m recording it,” She responds before the supervisor, identified as Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy Don Milazzo, tells her there is a judicial order banning the pubic from recording the courthouse building. He then directs her to enter the building so that she can be identified and shown the judicial order. She politely refuses.
Her refusal didn’t sit well with the supervisor who then calls for someone with handcuffs to assist him in detaining the photographer.
“I’m being detained for just taking pictures of the building?” She asks.
“Yes Mam. You’re doing something suspicious and we need to know who you are and why you are doing it, ok?” He responds.
“Are you familiar with the First Amendment?” She asks.
“Yes,” the officer responds as he violently snatches the video camera from her hands.
The photographer, who remained calm and professional throughout the interaction, was placed in handcuffs and taken inside of the courthouse where she was detained in a back room for more than an hour before she says she was brought to Judge Peter A. Felice’s courtroom. Felice is listed on the courthouse’s website as a municipal court circuit judge for the district.
While the law does not allow the police to access the camera footage without a warrant or to delete the contents of the SD card which is evidence, Pink Camera Magic says Judge Felice ordered her to delete her footage immediately, as he watched. She was then ordered to turn over her SD card and told to return to his courtroom in two days. She was never shown a warrant.
She tried to comply with the judges demands but found that her footage had already been deleted when she opened the files on the camera. She was allowed to leave after the judge confiscated her SD card.
Two days later she returned to the judge’s courtroom when the judge returned her SD card and told her that the court did not search the card or delete any video. She says the judge also told her that if she was caught taking pictures or shooting video of the courthouse again that she would be arrested for contempt. She was never shown the Judge’s order that she was told banned photography of the building.
Because the footage had been deleted, Pink Camera Magic sent the SD card off to a technician to have it recovered. The technician was able to retrieve the footage of her arrest. She subsequently filed a complaint with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, who provides the security for the building.
PINAC called the Cook County Courthouse’s Judicial Offices to obtain a copy of the judicial order the guard refers to in the video but have not heard back. A search of the courthouse’s website produced only one judicial order that relates to “Prohibited Behavior.”
That order, while not prohibiting photography, reads as follows:
“GENERAL ORDER NO. 18.5. – Prohibited Behavior
A. The solicitation of business relating to the furnishing of security deposits for bail or the employment of any attorneys is prohibited;
B. Loitering in or about the rooms or corridors of the courthouses is prohibited. Unapproved group congregating or the causing of a disturbance or nuisance in or near any courthouse or place of holding court in multiple arrest cases is prohibited. Picketing or parading outside of a building housing a court hearing multiple arrest cases is prohibited when such picketing or parading obstructs or impedes the orderly administration of justice;
C. The State’s Attorney of Cook County may require any person who violates this order to appear forthwith before any judge of this Court to answer to a charge of contempt;
D. The Sheriff of Cook County and his or her deputies, the Custodian of the courthouse and any peace officer shall enforce this order either by ejecting violators from the courthouse or by causing them to appear before one of the judges of this Court for a hearing and for the imposition of such punishment as the Court may deem proper.”
Pink Camera Magic continues to wait for the outcome of the internal affairs investigation. We will bring you more information about this story as it becomes available.
Office of the Chief Judge Circuit Court of Cook County (312)603-6000 MAIN OFFICE
Judge Peter Felice (708) 974-6290
Cook County Sheriff’s Office (312) 603-6444 CCSO@cookcountyil.gov