Demonstrator Who Recorded Arrests Sues for Unlawful Seizure of Cell Phone

Denver Police Retaliated Against Demonstrator for Recording Forceful Arrests of Other Demonstrators

DENVER, March 28, 2016 – A woman who attended an anti-police brutality demonstration filed a federal civil rights suit today against a Denver police district commander for violating her First Amendment freedoms by seizing her cell phone in retaliation for recording the forceful arrests of other demonstrators.

Jessica Benn, a Fort Collins resident, alleges that she attended an anti-police brutality demonstration with her husband in downtown Denver on April 29, 2015. According to her lawsuit, the demonstration was peaceful, but the Denver police began arresting scores of demonstrators for no apparent reason. As Denver police officers arrested her husband and smashed his face into the ground, Ms. Benn was recording the events with her cell phone. The suit alleges that she was standing on the public sidewalk and not interfering with the officers in any way.

Denver PD allegedly assaults Jessica Benn, April 29, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Cunningham
Denver PD allegedly assaults Jessica Benn, April 29, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Cunningham

Ms. Benn alleges that as she was recording, Denver Police District Commander Antonio Lopez told a sergeant to arrest her by saying “grab her” and then snatched Ms. Benn’s phone out of her hand. The sergeant pushed Ms. Benn up against a bus with his baton, but he let her go when she informed him that she was pregnant and asked him not to hurt her. Ms. Benn never got her phone back.

The suit continues that Ms. Benn “recorded the events that day because she did not think that the officers’ actions were proper, she believed that the arrests should be documented, she was critical of the officers’ actions, and she wanted to disseminate this information and message to the public.” It alleges that Denver’s lack of policies, training, and supervision of its officers on the First Amendment rights of members of the public to record police action in public contributed to the unconstitutional actions by Commander Lopez.

The suit alleges that this is not the first time that Denver police have unlawfully seized or searched bystanders’ cell phones or tablets. In August 2014, a bystander named Levi Frasier who recorded Denver police punching an unarmed arrestee in the face in public had his tablet seized and unlawfully searched by Denver police. He was threatened with arrest. Denver police tried to delete Mr. Frasier’s video but it had been uploaded to the cloud.

Ms. Benn’s lawsuit further alleges that Denver and Commander Lopez violated Ms. Benn’s First Amendment “right to gather, receive, record, and disseminate information and news on matters of public importance relating to civil liberties and civil rights, including the official actions of police officers in public.” It also alleges violations of Ms. Benn’s Fourth Amendment right against unlawful seizure of her property and Fourteenth Amendment right against deprivation of her property without due process.

Jessica Benn is represented by attorney Elizabeth Wang of Loevy & Loevy, one of the largest civil rights law firms in the country with offices in Chicago and Boulder. A copy of the suit, Jessica Benn v. Denver Police District Commander Antonio Lopez, et al., No. 16-CV-715, is available here. A photo of the alleged police assault on Ms. Benn can be found here.

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