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Pennsylvania Arrest for Videotaping Cops Denied Qualified Immunity

A Pennsylvania federal court held that police were not entitled to qualified immunity for "entering a family's home and arresting its owner for doing nothing more than attempting to videotape the officers' overreaction on her own property."

Kia Gaymon, 38, and her husband Michael Gaymon, 35, own a home in Collingdale, Pennsylvania. They have a 21-year-old daughter, Sanshuray Purnell, and a 10-year-old son.

On February 22, 2014, Collingdale police officers Carl White and William Eckert went to the Gaymon home in response to a neighbor's complaint that Gaymon's mother parked her car so that the front tire was on the curb in front of the neighbor's house.

The Gaymon's were leaving their residence as police arrived. Officer White immediately yelled at them in an aggressive manner, asking who spit at their neighbor. Mr. & Mrs. Gaymon claimed that they had done nothing wrong and their neighbor was falsely accusing them of spitting at her.

White approached Mr. Gaymon in an aggressive manner, placing his face within inches of Mr. Gaymon's face, while yelling at him. Mrs. Gaymon began videotaping the officer's aggressive behavior on her cell phone.

White then turned on Mrs. Gaymon, who continued to videotape him as she fled into her home. White ordered her to stop videotaping him, claiming that she was violating Pennsylvania's wiretap statute.

Mr. Gaymon and their daughter told the officer he was wrong and that Mrs. Gaymon had a right to record him. White threatened to enter the home, seize Mrs. Gaymon's phone and arrest her if she did not stop taping him. Mrs. Gaymon told White he was not permitted to enter her home.

White walked up the front entrance stairs, grabbed Sanshuray and threatened to Taser her, as he handcuffed and placed her under arrest. Eckert detained Sanshuray in the back of a police car.

White then entered the Gaymon home and again ordered Mrs. Gaymon to stop videotaping him. Mr. And Mrs. Gaymon repeated that he was not authorized to be in their home.

Ignoring them, White grabbed Mrs. Gaymon, pushed her against a wall, and held his Taser to her chest. Eckert and other officers then joined White and placed Mrs. Gaymon under arrest. They removed her from her home in handcuffs and placed her in a separate patrol vehicle from her daughter.

Both women were taken to the Collingdale Police Station. They were released later that day. Later they were mailed citations for "disorderly conduct," in violation of 18 Pa.Const.Stat. § 5503. On May 22, 2014, Mrs. Gaymon and Sanshuray appeared before a Magisterial District Judge, who dismissed all charges.

The Gaymons brought federal suit against the Borough of Collingdale, White, Eckert, and Does. They alleged wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution, retaliation, and unlawful search, in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity.

The district court denied the motion, finding that "any reasonable officer should have known that pursuing disorderly conduct charges against Mrs. Gaymon and Ms. Purnell constituted a blatant violation of their Fourth Amendment rights."

Plaintiffs' claims "can only be described as having particular resonance when viewed against the backdrop of recent events, nationally, where videotapes by citizens have proven to be indispensable in bringing to light instances where police unfortunately misused their power," the court found. "Suffice it to say that dismissing this Complaint at the pleading stage given the record before me would risk rendering the Bill of Rights meaningless, at least as it applies to the sanctity of a citizen's home." See: Gaymon v. Borough of Collingdale, USDC No. 14-5454 (ED Penn 2015).

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Related legal case

Gaymon v. Borough of Collingdale