'Right to Record' bill addresses citizens' right to film law enforcement

DENVER - A package of police oversight bills introduced in the Colorado Legislature includes a measure that would impose up to $15,000 in civil penalties if a law enforcement officer seizes or destroys a citizen's recording or interferes with someone trying to film them.

"Primarily, it came up as a result of the number of news reports we've been seeing about police officers telling people, 'Give me your camera,' or taking the data away, and that is unacceptable conduct," said Rep. Joe Salazar, a Democrat from Thornton and co-sponsor of the bill.

Salazar said House Bill 15-1290 has support from both Democrats and Republicans, and is not intended to penalize police.

"It takes a very special person to be a police officer," Salazar said. "We want to honor them, but at the same time, we have a few bad apples who need to be aware that their conduct now has major, major consequences."

Salazar said one incident that caught his attention was a woman's claims that Denver Police prevented her daughter from filming what happened after Jessica Hernandez, a 17-year-old in a stolen car, was shot.

Bobbie Ann Diaz lives right in front of the Park Hill ally where it happened in January. One of her daughter's was in the car with Hernandez and another daughter, Brianna, came outside with Diaz after they heard the gunshots.

Diaz said an officer stopped her after she left her yard, telling her he would arrest her if she didn't cooperate.

"The officer had me apprehended, he wouldn’t let me go," Diaz said.

She said she yelled to Brianna, who was still on their property, behind a fence, to record what was happening as officers pulled a lifeless Hernandez from the car.

"At that time, (the officers) put Jessie down and they were on their knees yelling at Brianna that she better not record. She better not," Diaz said. "She got scared. She got intimated. These are big officers and she didn’t want to make things worse."

Diaz said, at that time, she wasn't aware that citizens have every right to record police as long as they are not interfering with an investigation.

"I wanted to cooperate with them," she said. "And I didn’t know it was our right to keep recording on our property."

Denver Police said it could not comment on the Hernandez case because it's still under investigation by the Denver District Attorney's office.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police said, while it recognizes citizens' rights to record law enforcement, it is opposed to the fine of up to $15,000 because there is already a court process that determines whether an officer acted appropriately.

"There's already an existing process," said Wheat Ridge Police Chief Dan Brennan. "It don't think it's appropriate to legislate penalties."

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