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Philadelphia officials seek to cure journalism student of his ‘high-minded ideas about government’

Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. (Bigstock)

Journalism student Coulter Loeb tried to photograph Philadelphia police officer George Gaspar Jr. as the latter tried to shoo an overnight camper from the city’s Rittenhouse Square. Gaspar claims Loeb interfered with his duties as a police officer, so he arrested Loeb, cuffed him and charged him with disorderly conduct. Loeb sued, claiming that the arrest violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Despite the fact that every court to rule on the matter has now determined that there is a First Amendment right to record on-duty police, and that according to the American Civil Liberties Union, Philadelphia police have a history of wrongful arrests in this area, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Yohn Jr. dismissed Loeb’s free-speech claim this year, finding that such a right isn’t yet clearly established in the Third District. (Welcome to the world of qualified immunity, where the police are only required to follow “well-established” laws.)

But the other claim went forward to trial. And it’s here that the city of Philadelphia registered its contempt for transparency. From the Associated Press:

A college student arrested as he photographed a Philadelphia police encounter with a homeless woman said Wednesday he tried to be “a fly on the wall” until he was put in handcuffs.
However, a city attorney described then-photojournalism student Coulter Loeb as “a meddlesome 24-year-old” with “very high-minded ideas about government” and the role of media . . .
Assistant City Solicitor John C. Coyle told jurors that Loeb was interfering with Gaspar’s work as he tried to remove an overnight camper from tony Rittenhouse Square.
“Like many other college students, he has some very high-minded ideas about government, the role of government in interactions with its citizenry and the role of the media in observing those interactions,” Coyle said in his opening statements.

We certainly can’t have our young people thinking the police and government should be transparent and accountable to the people. Best to disabuse them of the notion early, with an arrest and a few hours in handcuffs.

Officer Gaspar didn’t like the cut of Loeb’s jib, either.

“He looked me up and down, and then took one step back. That to me was being a wise guy,” said Gaspar, who said he refrained from charging him with more than a summary offense.
“He was a young man. Didn’t look like he needed the electric chair to be punished here,” the officer said.

How generous of him.