Inge Berge made it clear from the get-go that he was recording when he walked into the superintendent’s office in Gloucester, Massachusetts to purchase five tickets to a school play in which his middle school daughter was performing.
But Gloucester Public Schools Superintendent Ben Lummis and his secretary said they did not want to be recorded and refused to speak to him unless he turned the camera off.
He ended up speaking to an assistant superintendent named Gregg Bach who did not mind being recorded, then posted the video to his Facebook page, feeling positive about the interaction with Bach.
But later that day he received a letter from Roberta Eason, director of human resources for the district, accusing him of felony wiretapping and threatening him with legal action if he did not remove the video.
More than a month later, the video not only remains on his Facebook page but Berge has filed a lawsuit against the School Committee of Gloucester and three employees, accusing them of violating his Constitutional right to record public officials in public.
The incident took place on March 3, 2022 while Berge was trying to buy five tickets to the school play after he had been informed the school was limiting seating to fill only half the auditorium due to covid restrictions.
Berge was told that 125 seats were available after the school limited seating to only 175 tickets. He was hoping the school district would make an exception to allow his family to see the girl perform.
He had been discussing the issue on his Facebook page and planned to upload the video for his friends and followers.
“I’m filming this, I’m doing a story on it,” Berge told Delisi after walking into the office, who then became irate over the fact he was recording.
“I’m not going to be filmed,” she said. “Can you shut that off. I’m not going to be filmed.”
Delisi scattered into the superintendent’s office as Lummis came to the doorway, telling him to stop recording.
“You do not have my permission to film me right now,” Lummis said before closing the door.
Eventually, Bach stepped out and spoke to him and seemed promising about allowing him to purchase the five tickets.
But not only did they refuse his request, they threatened him with a law that does not apply in this case because he never made it a secret that he was recording, according to the lawsuit filed by Marc Randazza, the First Amendment attorney representing him.
On March 3, 2022, Inge Berge entered the office of the Superintendent of Gloucester Public Schools, Ben Lummis. He went there to discuss an issue wherein Gloucester Public Schools were limited seating capacity at school events purportedly for the purpose of public safety, despite all statewide COVID-19 mandates in Massachusetts having been lifted. These restrictions were making it difficult to purchase tickets for him to attend his daughter’s middle school play.
The Superintendent’s office is a public building that is accessible to the general public.
At the time Berge entered the building, there was neither signage nor any other indication that video recording or photography was restricted, not permitted, nor even discouraged.
At all times, Berge held his camera out in the open, and it was obvious to all parties that he was filming. He also verbally confirmed that he was filming.
When Mr. Berge entered the building, he was directed to Executive Secretary Stephanie Delisi and began to speak with her. He began this conversation by stating “I’m filming this, I’m doing a story on it.”
At no point did anyone inform Mr. Berge that filming was not permitted, although two individuals did protest that they did not personally wish to be filmed. These individuals then retreated to private office areas, and were not filmed after that point.
The lawsuit also states the school is accusing Berge of violating the federal law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which is supposed to protect the privacy of student education records but that does not appear to be the case here.
The video in question remains on Berge’s Facebook page where it has been shared 16 times as of this writing.