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The NYPD Took This Dog Into Custody Because His Owner Filmed the Police

Harvey’s owner is joined by 2,746 other humans who have been arrested for filming the NYPD in the last two years alone.

Uncannily cute dog lying on a carpet

Harvey was taken into custody at the 79th Precinct (Photo: Legal complaint)

On May 3, 2020, Molly Griffard stepped out of her Bed-Stuy apartment to take her dog Harvey, a nine-year-old Yorkie, for a walk. They hadn't gotten far when Griffard saw police pulling a young Black man out of a bodega and around the corner, where they already had several other young Black men up against a wall.

"There were a lot of officers there, and they were acting very aggressive, so I pulled out my phone and I started recording," Griffard said. "I believed what I was seeing was an illegal stop, question, and frisk."

Griffard has some expertise in this subject. She's an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, where she works on police misconduct issues as part of a division dedicated to reforming the criminal legal system.

As she filmed from a safe distance, Griffard told Hell Gate, she called out to the young men lined up against the wall, informing them of their rights to a lawyer and to remain silent. "That's when one of the officers started pushing me back, even though I wasn't close enough to interfere with what the police were doing," she said. "He told me I had to cross the street."

Griffard did cross the street, but she also asked the cop who had pushed her for his business card, knowing that under the Right to Know Act passed by the City Council in 2017, he was legally obligated to provide it. But he didn't comply with her request. "Instead, he spun me around and arrested me and my dog," she said. 

Griffard was not pleased to be getting arrested, but she especially didn't want her Yorkie taken into custody. A co-worker who lived nearby arrived on the scene as Griffard was being arrested and offered to take the dog, but the officers on the scene wouldn't allow it. Instead, they took Griffard and Harvey to the 79th Precinct, where they separated the two and confiscated Griffard's phone, booked her for obstruction of government administration, and held Griffard in a cell for eight hours, initially without a mask. While she was locked up, officers refused to  tell her where they were holding Harvey or how he was doing, she said. 

Griffard was eventually released around 1 a.m. with a desk appearance ticket. Her charges were dropped even before her first day in court, and the young men she'd seen up against the wall were never even arrested. Griffard never got her phone, or the video on it, back from the police. Harvey was traumatized by the incident, Griffard says, and is now prescribed a low dose of Xanax to treat his anxiety disorder.

Harvey was traumatized by his time in police custody, a lawsuit alleges. (Photo: Legal complaint)

This month, she filed a lawsuit alleging false arrest and imprisonment, retaliatory arrest, and that her constitutional rights were violated, alleging that New York City has "a widespread policy, custom, and practice of obstructing and preventing concerned citizens from recording police activity in public locations, and of targeting and arresting citizens for recording police activity in public places, in violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution."

To show there's a pattern of police arresting people who try to film them, Griffard's lawsuit points to a dozen previous lawsuits arising from incidents in which police arrested or allegedly interfered with people who had been filming them.

In New York City, it is everyone's legal right to film the police. That right is recognized in case law and codified in City law in the form of the Right to Record Act, and in state law in the Right to Monitor Act. But while the right exists on paper, it isn't always honored and celebrated. In 2020, police arrested and injured a grandmother who they thought was filming them in a precinct vestibule. The same year, Department of Homeless Services police arrested a man who had photographed them violating masking regulations.

It's also not a right that our mayor seems terribly enthusiastic about. Eric Adams devoted one of his early speeches as mayor to criticizing people who film the police, saying that often, they get too close to cops. “If an officer is on the ground wrestling with someone that has a gun, they should not have to worry about someone standing over them with a camera while they’re wrestling with someone,” Adams said in March of 2022. He added, "Stop being on top of my police officers while they’re carrying out their jobs. That is not acceptable, and it won’t be tolerated. That is a very dangerous environment that you are creating when you are on top of that officer, who has an understanding of what he’s doing at the time, yelling ‘police brutality,’ yelling at the officer, calling them names.”

While Adams may be frustrated with people who film the police, the NYPD is required under the Right to Record Act to publish statistics tracking how many people it arrests while they are trying to film police activity. According to those numbers, the NYPD arrested 2,746 people who were in the process of filming or trying to film police activity in the last two years alone. Of those arrested while trying to film the police, 55 percent were Black and 29 percent Hispanic, according to the NYPD's records. The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment on its Right to Record statistics or Griffard's suit.

"That's a lot of arrests," said Keegan Stephan, one of the lawyers representing Griffard in her suit. "The NYPD is arresting, on average, four people who are trying to film the police, every single day. We already have the Right to Record Act, but clearly we need something else. Some sort of court injunction would be a start."

Griffard says she's bringing the lawsuit in the hope it will help compel the police to follow the law. "We have a right to record the police in New York City, and a right to know who those police are. No one should be retaliated against for exercising their rights."

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