The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana today filed a lawsuit on behalf of a citizen journalist, claiming Indiana’s new 25-foot “encroachment” law violates his constitutional right to observe and record the police.
The new law, which went into effect on July 1, prohibits a person from knowingly and intentionally approaching within 25 feet of a law enforcement officer after the officer has ordered the person to stop.
The plaintiff, Donald Nicodemus, is a citizen journalist who lives in South Bend, Indiana, and monitors the activity of public-safety personnel, primarily the South Bend Police. Nicodemus regularly posts videos on his YouTube channel Freedom 2 Film, which has more than 23,000 subscribers. South Bend police have enforced the new law against Nicodemus to prevent him from getting close enough to observe and record their activities.
“The unbridled discretion given to law enforcement officers by the new 25-foot law allows for, and invites content and viewpoint-based discrimination,” said Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana. “This gives police officers unchecked authority to prohibit citizens from approaching within 25 feet of the officers to observe their actions, even if the actions of the citizens are not and will not interfere with the police.”
On July 20, Nicodemus was observing and recording an area of police activity, much further than 25 feet from the area, while live streaming the event to “Freedom 2 Film.” He was not interfering in any way with the police investigation. In the video recorded by Nicodemus, an officer is seen stepping off what he indicated was 25 feet from the location where Nicodemus and the other observers were standing and told them that they had to move further away from the police activity. At this point, Nicodemus was already unable to observe and record the scene. After approximately 12 minutes, another police officer approached Nicodemus and others who were gathered at the “25 foot” point and said that this was his crime scene, and that everyone had to move back another 25 feet. The officer threatened those on the corner, including Nicodemus, would go to jail if they did not move back another 25 feet, stating that there was a “new law.”
“The right of citizens to observe and record the police is a critical check and balance,” said Katie Blair, advocacy and public policy director at the ACLU of Indiana. “Whether it’s a traffic stop, a police response to a mental health crisis, or other police-community interactions, community members cannot hold police officers accountable if they cannot observe what is going on.”