Two hungry brothers and their roommate decided to make a food run to a local McDonald’s in DeKalb last fall. The three Northern Illinois University students were unaware that what started as a simple burger run would become a news event, involving police, the ACLU, and the US Constitution. After securing some grub, the three men were pulled over by a police officer–supposedly because the unnamed roommate was driving erratically.
Feeling uneasy over the DUI stop, Fanon Perteet readied his phone to record video of the police stop. Fanon’s act was illegal under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act and he was arrested for recording a police officer–a felony in the state. His brother, Adrian, was arrested soon after for recording his brother’s arrest. He, too, was informed that he’d committed a felony.
The brothers are among the growing number of Illinois’ residents who’ve made the news for criminal violations of the state’s eavesdropping law, which, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is unconstitutional. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against against Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez that the recording the brothers made falls under the protection of the First Amendment: it’s a right for individuals and groups to share information about the police with the public.
Alvarez, when asked, stated that the law “…doesn’t just protect police officers, it protects all of you and every citizen of the state of Illinois.” There are just a couple states with laws similar to Illinois’; Massachusetts and Oregon. However, both states cover situations where hidden audio recordings of law enforcement officials is illegal.
The ACLU’s lawyers stated that group members monitor law enforcement and want to be given the ability to record officers without fear of arrests during demonstrations. The problem with the Illinois law is that it makes it illegal to record law enforcement in public spaces, where everyday citizens can’t expect the same protections. An ACLU spokesperson stated, “We’re not trying to get inside a police station house where the public isn’t invited,” he said. “We’re talking about standing on a street corner and making these recordings.”
Although citizens can’t make recordings, the police can. Squad cars in Illinois are equipped with both video and audio surveillance equipment to protect officers and the community. Yet, citizens are prosecuted for recording the police.
According to Professor Harold Krent, a Chicago-Kent constitutional law expert, the ACLU’s case is “a long shot.” The law cannot be contested, so the ACLU has to prove that it’s being enforced in some cases while not in others. According to Krent, “That’s a tough legal argument to make.” Chicago Police spokesperson said that any actions that interfere with police puts everyone at risk.
The Perteet brothers settled their cases by pleading to misdemeanor charges because they did not wish to face felonies.