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Loyola prof files complaint against cops for erasing arrest video

Ralph Braseth / phofrom LoyolUniversity

Ralph Braseth / photo from Loyola University

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Updated: December 19, 2011 8:18AM

A Loyola University journalism professor has filed a complaint against Chicago Police saying his constitutional rights were violated after an officer allegedly erased a video clip he made of a turnstile jumper’s arrest at a CTA station.

Ralph Braseth, 53, claims he was at the Red Line at Chicago and State filming an unrelated documentary when two plainclothes police officers arrested a young man for jumping the turnstile. But when one of the officers saw Braseth videotaping, the officer told him to turn off the camera, according to an incident report filed with the Independent Police Review Authority.

“As soon as he started coming towards me, I was a chicken s--- and stuck [the camera] in my pocket,” Braseth said in an interview. “I know about the eavesdropping law but I was 40 feet away from the arrest and it was taking place in the subway station. You couldn’t hear anything.”

The eavesdropping law does not allow the audio recording of an arrest or other situations involving law enforcement, police said.

The officer then grabbed Braseth’s right arm and twisted it behind his back, the report states. When Braseth identified himself as a journalist and asked why he was being handcuffed, the officer said it was because he was obstructing an investigation. The officer also expressed his “strong feelings that it was illegal to videotape police during an arrest,” the report states.

Braseth said the officers then asked to see the recording.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have let them see the arrest, but I did,” Braseth said. “And that’s when he reached down and hit the delete button.”

That’s what upset Braseth the most, more than the actual arrest, which he believes was done by the book.

“The biggest problem was when he deleted the tape,” Braseth said. “That’s a First Amendment and Fourth Amendment issue, and it’s huge. That’s as serious as it gets and that’s why I filed a complaint. As a journalism professor, it’s what I teach my students, and it also happens to be what I really believe.”

Braseth said the turnstile arrest had nothing to do with a documentary he was working on about the large number of young adults from the South Side who frequently visit North Michigan Avenue, “the most affluent zip code in Chicago.”

“They probably thought of the eavesdropping law, in which case, they should have arrested me and taken my camera without looking at it and given it to a third party, like a judge. And then decide whether or not I deserve to be charged with a crime,” Braseth said.

A law enforcement source said police indeed likely believed Braseth was violating the eavesdropping statute.

Braseth wants CTA video surveillance footage reviewed. The National Press Photographers Association and the group College Media Advisers have written letters to IPRA in support of Braseth’s claims his rights were violated.

Braseth says he hopes the situation will lead to changes in city rules on illegal search and seizure by police: “I hope a federal judge can come back and say, ‘Here’s the ground rules, why don’t you make some policies and come back to see if it works.’”

Police said no police report was made about the situation.

Braseth joined Loyola’s School of Communication in August 2009 as Manager of Student Media.

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