News >> Browse Articles >> Law Enforcement News


ACLU Wrong, Police Right In Holding of Videotaping Teen

ACLU Wrong, Police Right In Holding of Videotaping Teen

Khaliah Fitchette tells reporters her side of the story

The Star-Leger via YellowBrix

March 30, 2011

NEWARK – Khaliah Fitchette better hope she never trips and falls on a public sidewalk when somebody is walking nearby with a cell phone. I’m sure the “fotog” would love to record the embarrassing event – and maybe even put the video on YouTube.

It would be the passerby’s way of exercising his “First Amendment” rights.

Fitchette is the Newark teenager who got into trouble last March for taking a video of Newark police trying to help a man suffering from a medical emergency on a city bus. Police asked her to stop taping, and when she refused, they took her into custody.

The student was handcuffed, but not arrested. Police released her to her mother several hours later without pressing charges.

A thoughtful student would have realized that, “Hey, I really shouldn’t have videotaped that man in distress.” (The man had collapsed, and was unconscious.)

A thoughtful person would have reasoned, “Sure, it’s a public place, and like many teenagers, I like to tape my friends doing funny things. But if I fell on my face on a sidewalk or collapsed in a medical emergency, I sure would not want somebody taping me.” (Unlike my opening example, Fitchette did not put the video on YouTube.)

A thoughtful person would have further realized that, on reflection, “I wasn’t being very bright in defying the cops when they asked me to stop taping. The police have their job, and they’re mostly doing their best. They usually ask people to stand back, and I was interfering. Getting good pictures wasn’t the most important thing that day.”

It would have dawned on a thoughtful person that, “The cops understood – as I did not – that they were trying to protect the man’s privacy and save him from further embarrassment.”

A thoughtful person would have realized, “Now I understand why the police, angered by my defiance expressed by my refusal to stop taping, would have handcuffed me. I certainly did not enjoy being handcuffed and being held in custody for several hours. But,” a thoughtful person would have concluded, “I certainly brought that unpleasantness upon myself.”

Yes, a thoughtful person, upon reflection, would have understood all of that.

But Fitchette, now 17, is apparently not a thoughtful person. Instead of chalking it up as a lesson in maturity, the teenager sought revenge against the Newark police. Looking around for somebody to help her beat up on the Newark police, she and her mother found the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. (But it’s always possible that the ACLU found her.)

And so, the state chapter of the ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit on her behalf against the city police, accusing them of illegally detaining her. The lawsuit was reported Tuesday on and in The Star-Ledger.

For the ACLU, this student’s wanting to get back at the police was like manna from heaven. Last September, the ACLU filed an earlier lawsuit (or here) against the Newark police, alleging all manner of police misconduct and calling for federal monitoring of the city police department.

But the ACLU’s earlier lawsuit has been out of the news recently, and what better way to revive public interest than Fitchette’s tale of woe. She’s the perfect foil to the police. Recently accepted to Cornell University, she’s looks like a nice girl. Reporters covering the press conference that announced the lawsuit described her as speaking in “a hushed tone” – obviously a modest, brilliant student being picked on by the police.

The ACLU, naturally, knows the “bash the cops” script well. A Seton Hall law professor working with the ACLU and the university’s Center for Social Justice, leveled the charge: “This is part of a fairly pervasive pattern and practice by the Newark Police Department,” said Baher Azmy, “to retaliate against individuals’ assertion of their First Amendment rights.”

That is utter nonsense, as the law professor and anybody with a lick of common sense ought to know. Go look it up: the First Amendment guarantees the right to speak your mind, practice your religion, and peaceably assemble.

It’s a far stretch to say that the First Amendment gives you the right to videotape the police trying to help somebody in distress, particularly if that officer asks you not to interfere with their official duties.

To be fair to our student, it is not illegal to videotape somebody in public. But when police arrive to help somebody in distress, they routinely ask people to get back, and out of the way. Sometimes, police “order” people to do that. With rubberneckers out of the way, first responders can do their job.

But what happens if a bystander defiantly refuses to cooperate, as Fitchette refused? To hear the ACLU tell it, I guess the police should just let her have her way. No sanctions.

“I take pictures of everything,” the demure teenager told reporters. “I didn’t think it was like a big deal, I guess.”

I guess not.

So why was Fitchette held for nearly three hours? Well, police processing is not instantaneous. Or maybe it took her mother that long to show up to get her.

But in the ACLU’s mind, any accusation of a violation of “First Amendment rights “ – no matter how frivolous – is always good theater.

It’s interesting to review the Star-Ledger videotape of Fitchette’s mother speaking at the press conference, available on YouTube. Nowhere does Kameelah Phillips mention the crucial point – that her daughter defiantly refused to stop taping, even after police asked her to stop.

I guess teenagers can do whatever they want. If the cops don’t like it – tough, we’ll call the ACLU.

Some have tried to cast this incident as so-called police misconduct, or else the police objecting to the public being a “watchdog” on their dealing with the public. But I keep thinking of that poor man on the bus, whose right to privacy in his moment of distress is more important than a teenager’s enthusiasm for taping “everything.”

So maybe there isn’t a universal “right” to videotape anything you feel like. Maybe Fitchette ought to re-think her actions. Maybe Fitchette ought to apologize to the Newark police. Maybe she ought to apologize to the man she videotaped.

Maybe the ACLU ought to forget their apparent vendetta against the Newark police.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    ZZZzzz, not being there but just from reading the article, it appears that she was also in the way of the officers. If that is the case, fine, hook her up. As for Wartiming2, maybe I missed it but I didn't see where the article said she was sitting in a bus seat. I'm not condemning any of the post but I am saying that I don't remember seeing anywhere in the constitution that it says something like, "In the event that in our future someone invents video phones, they have the right to video tape anything they darn well please." And of course we all know that Revs Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton of the Church of the ACLU, will weigh in on it. Would the ACLU even have entered the case if the girl detained was white and the fallen man was black. Just a question?

  • Caronstar_20_2__max50


    over 3 years ago


    I so badly want to agree with arrest. But for some reason I can not find a violation of the Federal, State or Local law that will give me that authority. The girl's family should whip her ass for the incident but she should not have been arrested from what I read in this text. No! before you get carried away I do not in any way support any action by th ACLU.

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    over 3 years ago


    By deleting my post yesterday instead of trying to refute anything I stated you just proved how right I am. Call me a troll but I've followed stories on here for 2 years and have never needed to post until the miss-information in this article. You probably won't hear from me again until the town writes a check for this. Most of the post are saying how it was immoral or in bad taste. Are these cops immoral enforcement officers, bad taste enforcement officers, or are they LAW enforcement officers? The fact is she was not doing anything against the law. How does sitting in a bus seat filming someone constitute obstruction? If the cops would have ignored her no one would know who she is, the cops would not be facing a lawsuit and there would not be a loss of respect caused by a story that goes international. To say she should have been arrested for violation of HIPPA (civil law) is incorrect. When General Petreus (sp?) passed out in front of Congress while testifying, the sergeant-at-arms did not run around seizing cameras and arresting reporters for HIPPA violations. To say since the cops gave her a "lawful" order (someone please cite the law, NJ or federal, that says you can't film in public) is wrong because a "lawful" order has to be based on a law not some cops whims. Did the Aurora, Colorado cop in trouble with teenage girls issue lawful orders when he told them to get naked and spread their girl parts? You call me anti-cop but I'm not. I'm anti dumb and corrupt cop. I'm trying to get my point across so someone doesn't have to pay out of pocket like the PA troopers who decided they could tell someone to stop filming them, We have a constitution for a reason, Like the great Lt. Dangle once said "This isn't communist China".

  • 185851_1872813306782_1434645280_2090808_1428115_n_max50


    over 3 years ago


    ACLU, i would love to know this girls GPA with the college. It is apparent she has moral issues misunderstanding, video taping a man in distress. PS: When a Police Officer askes you to do somthing
    you shouldnt think twice just do it.

  • Headshot_max50


    over 3 years ago


    I encourage to be videotaped on my stops and contacts with people, then they can actually see the professional side of the job and maybe I'll actually get some credit from a hateful community instead of going out everyday and risking my life for them, all in vain.

  • 474305986_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Confiscate the phone and use it for evedance. That would really make the person's day.

  • Newpatch_sq90_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Another abuse of the tax payers money at work. ACLU you really need to get a life.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    oh, and I do agree that it's silly and ghoulish to tape people's misfortunes. but it definitely isn't unlawful, in most places.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    I think the whole trend of cops arresting people for taping them is ridiculous. It's a huge violation of these people'
    s rights. I videotape every t-stop, what makes me different than the general public? If you're so afraid that you'll get caught doing something wrong on camera, get another job where it doesn't matter.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    I understand this teen should have shown more respect to the subject and the officers, but wow, this is the most biased article I have ever read on PoliceLink.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    Score one for the good side. ACLU..anti citizens law abiding union. Never cared for the so called organization, and never will.

  • Police_car_max50


    over 3 years ago


    And maybe this girl's parents need to teach her some common decency and consideration for others.

    I love this column. It is instances like this that show the ACLU for what it is. If they were truly interested in protecting civil liberties, they would be filing action on behalf of the individual who was being filmed.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 3 years ago


    In prison, the inmates have a saying..."what goes around, comes around" In 31 years, I have seen the truth of this many times with both unruley inmates and inappropriate staff actions. Just keep your eyes open... she and her family will learn the hard way.

  • Police-dog-5_max50


    over 3 years ago


    This teen needs to LEARN RESPECT TO OTHERS. Yes, video taping like that is not against the law, but the teen should know when and when not to video tape. The officer was not hurting the man, he was trying to help/save the man. The teen also needs to learn to listen to officers when when they say to do something. When people don't listen to LEO's, then officer needs to do some thing. Because know they think there life is in danger. The LEO did nothing wrong, it's common sense, why did the teen not listen. If it was me I would have done the same thing. This teen needs to GROW UP AND LISTEN TO THE LEO's. It sounds like all the teen is, is selfish and has no respect. With that all said LEO did correct.

  • 687-45b_5270


    over 3 years ago


    This is just people having disrespect for authority. I do not see any respect anymore. I hope that Khaliah Fitchette and the ACLU realize that they are trying to bring down the people who protect them

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a criminal justice degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

Get Info

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.

Recent Activity

skater posted: "Ferguson", 7 minutes ago.
skater posted in: "Ferguson", 7 minutes ago.
woodya is ranked No.1 for the day in PoliceTrivia, 19 minutes ago.