A federal judge on Friday rejected a request to block an Indiana law establishing a so-called “buffer zone” around law enforcement during official duties, a measure that includes both the public and the press.
Under House Enrolled Act 1186, law enforcement officers were granted a 25-foot buffer zone from bystanders around police activity. This came over the objections of advocacy groups who warned it would infringe on public efforts to document police misconduct. Authors and supporters of the measure said it would keep law enforcement safer and those who violate an officer’s order could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana filed a lawsuit in August on behalf of South Bend’s Donald Nicodemus, whose ”Freedom 2 Film” YouTube channel captures his interactions with the local police force, saying the law infringed on his constitutional rights.
Nicodemus has previously encountered controversies as a “citizen journalist” and captured video of an officer ordering Nicodemus to stand 25 feet away.
But U.S. District Court Judge Damon R. Leichty appeared not to sympathize with the ACLU’s arguments and found the law constitutional.
“Indiana’s buffer law has many constitutional applications within its plainly legitimate sweep. It never once permits an officer to tell a reporter or citizen-journalist to leave altogether or to cease recording police activity,” Leichty said in a 15-page ruling. “And at 25 feet, in measure small steps from an officer’s work, this law has only an incidental effect on the public’s First Amendment right to capture audio and video and otherwise scrutinize police conduct.”
The ACLU, in a release, said it planned to appeal the decision.
“We’re obviously disappointed in this decision, as we believe this new law gives unbridled discretion to law enforcement officers and invites content and viewpoint-based discrimination,” said Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana. “With this ruling, police officers will continue to have unchecked authority to prohibit citizens from approaching within 25 feet of the officers to observe their actions, even if the actions of the citizens are not and will not interfere with the police.”
A separate lawsuit filed by several media entities in Indiana’s Southern District Court is ongoing.