The ACLU of Louisiana filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging a Lafayette police officer improperly deleted cellphone photos a woman had taken of her son in the back of police cruiser.
The federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of Chelline Carter, claims Officer Shannon Brasseaux took the woman's phone after she snapped pictures of her son during his arrest in January. He was accused of possession of marijuana in the parking lot of a business on Kaliste Saloom Road.
The suit claims the officer told the woman she was breaking the law by taking pictures of "evidence," then deleted those photos before handing the phone back to her, according to the lawsuit.
ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said citizens have a long-established First Amendment right to photograph police in a public place if they are not interfering with an officer's duties and that law enforcement officers must have a warrant to access a cellphone.
"I think it's unfortunate that these things happen, but I do think it's important to establish clearly that people's cellphones are private," Esman said.
The legal question of cellphone privacy had been murky for several years, but the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in a 2014 decision that, except for rare exceptions, officers need a warrant to poke around in a cellphone, even if it belongs to someone they just arrested.
Esman said Carter had not been arrested, was not interfering with the officer and had not been accused of doing anything other than taking pictures.
Representatives of the Lafayette Police Department and Lafayette city-parish government declined comment.
The lawsuit seeks damages, a court judgment declaring that the officer's actions violated Carter's rights and an injunction blocking police in the future from interfering with citizens who are photographing police and from seizing and searching their cellphones or other photographic equipment.