A Hennepin County District Judge has dismissed charges of obstruction of legal process against a bystander who recorded a police arrest in Robbinsdale.
Seminary student Amy Koopman was driving home on Aug. 16, 2018, when she saw three police with their guns pointed at two Black men in a car they had stopped. She pulled over and started streaming the interaction on Facebook Live. She stood 40 yards away, across the street on a public sidewalk.
As police were in the process of arresting the men, they yelled at gathered witnesses including Koopman to get out of the line of fire. In response, Koopman asked police to put their guns away and then not to shoot. When police gave the passenger contradictory instructions to both open his door and keep his hands visible, Koopman – concerned any perceived delay could result in a police shooting – pointed out that the passenger was opening the door. After arresting both men, police cited Koopman with a misdemeanor for allegedly interfering with police.
Judge Susan Robiner agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota’s argument that police had no probable cause to charge Koopman. “… No reasonable officer could construe her shouting as ‘physically obstructing or interfering’ in the performance of their duties.”
The ACLU-MN also argued the charge violated Koopman’s freedom of speech and expression, including her right to monitor and publish police activities. Because the judge found no probable cause for the charge, she did not address the constitutional issues.
“Charging Amy Koopman with a misdemeanor was an attempt to chill the First Amendment right to monitor, record and even verbally challenge policing in public spaces,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “We hope officers across the state will take heed of this ruling and respect people’s right to observe and record police activity.”
Amy Koopman said she was filled with relief.
“I was absolutely confident in the legality of what I did and the moral rightness of what I did,” she said. “The climate around Black lives, police brutality and constitutional rights made for trepidation and concern. I’m grateful in this particular instance the Constitution was upheld on my behalf, but I am keenly aware of all the times it is not upheld.”
The judge issued her ruling on June 11. Prosecutors had seven days afterwards to appeal that ruling, but did not.
The ACLU-MN is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to defend the civil liberties of all Minnesotans. Learn more at www.aclu-mn.org.