[Top photo] Officer Gretchen Allen
Today I contacted the “confidential” assistant to Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald asking for an official response to the recent incident described below.
I wanted to know what, if anything, was being done about Officer Gretchen Allen’s recent behavior. The Chief’s assistant said she would have him call me back.
I also wanted to ask the following:
1. What is the department’s current policy for public interactions with the media filming or photographing in public?
2. What is the department’s Oath of Office for all sworn police officers?
Are officers expected to understand this oath, especially where they are called upon to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America as well as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?
3. Have employees received proper training regarding the constitutional right of citizens to photograph and videotape police officers in public?
Specifically the ruling pertaining to ‘Glik vs the City of Boston,’ where Boston Police Officers are now explicitly instructed not to arrest citizens openly recording them in public.
For those not familiar, here are some key excerpts taken directly from the ‘Glik’ ruling (it’s lengthy and those in LE would be well served to read it carefully):
- Were Glik’s First Amendment Rights Violated?
The First Amendment issue here is, as the parties frame
it, fairly narrow: is there a constitutionally protected right to
videotape police carrying out their duties in public? Basic First
Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other
circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative.
It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s
aegis extends further than the text’s proscription on laws
“abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and encompasses
a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of
information. As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First
Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the
self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting
(1st Cir. 1986) the stock of information from which members of the public may
draw.” First Nat’l Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978); see
also Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969) (“It is . . .
well established that the Constitution protects the right to
receive information and ideas.”). An important corollary to this
interest in protecting the stock of public information is that
“[t]here is an undoubted right to gather news ‘from any source by
means within the law.’” Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1, 11
(1978) (quoting Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 681-82 (1972)).
The filming of government officials engaged in their
duties in a public place, including police officers performing
their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles.
Gathering information about government officials in a form that can
readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment
interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of
governmental affairs.” Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218 (1966).
Moreover, as the Court has noted, “[f]reedom of expression has
particular significance with respect to government because ‘[i]t is
here that the state has a special incentive to repress opposition
and often wields a more effective power of suppression.’” First
Nat’l Bank, 435 U.S. at 777 n.11 (alteration in original) (quoting
Thomas Emerson, Toward a General Theory of the First Amendment 9
(1966)). This is particularly true of law enforcement officials,
who are granted substantial discretion that may be misused to
deprive individuals of their liberties. Cf. Gentile v. State Bar
of Nev., 501 U.S. 1030, 1035-36 (1991) (observing that “[t]he
public has an interest in [the] responsible exercise” of the
discretion granted police and prosecutors). Ensuring the public’s
right to gather information about their officials not only aids in
the uncovering of abuses, see id. at 1034-35 (recognizing a core
First Amendment interest in “the dissemination of information
relating to alleged governmental misconduct”), but also may have a
salutary effect on the functioning of government more generally,
see Press-Enter. Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1, 8 (1986)
(noting that “many governmental processes operate best under public
In line with these principles, we have previously
recognized that the videotaping of public officials is an exercise
of First Amendment liberties. In Iacobucci v. Boulter, 193 F.3d 14
(1st Cir. 1999), a local journalist brought a § 1983 claim arising
from his arrest in the course of filming officials in the hallway
outside a public meeting of a historic district commission. The
commissioners had objected to the plaintiff’s filming. Id. at 18.
When the plaintiff refused to desist, a police officer on the scene
arrested him for disorderly conduct. Id. The charges were later
dismissed. Id. Although the plaintiff’s subsequent § 1983 suit
against the arresting police officer was grounded largely in the
Fourth Amendment and did not include a First Amendment claim, we
explicitly noted, in rejecting the officer’s appeal from a denial
of qualified immunity, that because the plaintiff’s journalistic
activities “were peaceful, not performed in derogation of any law,
and done in the exercise of his First Amendment rights, [the
officer] lacked the authority to stop them.” Id. at 25 (emphasis
Our recognition that the First Amendment protects the
filming of government officials in public spaces accords with the
decisions of numerous circuit and district courts. See, e.g.,
Smith v. City of Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332, 1333 (11th Cir. 2000)
(“The First Amendment protects the right to gather information
about what public officials do on public property, and
specifically, a right to record matters of public interest.”);
Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436, 439 (9th Cir. 1995)
(recognizing a “First Amendment right to film matters of public
interest”); Demarest v. Athol/Orange Cmty. Television, Inc., 188 F.
Supp. 2d 82, 94-95 (D. Mass. 2002) (finding it “highly probable”
that filming of a public official on street outside his home by
contributors to public access cable show was protected by the First
Amendment, and noting that, “[a]t base, plaintiffs had a
constitutionally protected right to record matters of public
interest”); Channel 10, Inc. v. Gunnarson, 337 F. Supp. 634, 638
(D. Minn. 1972) (holding that police interference with television
newsman’s filming of crime scene and seizure of video camera
constituted unlawful prior restraint under First Amendment); cf.
Schnell v. City of Chi., 407 F.2d 1084, 1085 (7th Cir. 1969)
(reversing dismissal for failure to state a claim of suit claiming
police interference with news reporters and photographers’
“constitutional right to gather and report news, and to photograph
news events” under the First Amendment (internal quotation mark
omitted)), overruled on other grounds by City of Kenosha v. Bruno,
412 U.S. 507 (1973); Connell v. Town of Hudson, 733 F. Supp. 465,
471-72 (D.N.H. 1990) (denying qualified immunity from First
Amendment claim to police chief who prevented freelance
photographer from taking pictures of car accident).
It is of no significance that the present case, unlike
Iacobucci and many of those cited above, involves a private
individual, and not a reporter, gathering information about public
officials. The First Amendment right to gather news is, as the
Court has often noted, not one that inures solely to the benefit of
the news media; rather, the public’s right of access to information
is coextensive with that of the press. Houchins, 438 U.S. at 16
(Stewart, J., concurring) (noting that the Constitution “assure[s]
the public and the press equal access once government has opened
its doors”); Branzburg, 408 U.S. at 684 (“[T]he First Amendment
does not guarantee the press a constitutional right of special
access to information not available to the public generally.”).
Indeed, there are several cases involving private individuals among
the decisions from other courts recognizing the First Amendment
right to film. See, e.g., Smith, 212 F.3d 1332; Robinson v.
Fetterman, 378 F. Supp. 2d 534 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (holding that arrest
of individual filming police activities from private property
violated First Amendment); Cirelli v. Town of Johnston Sch. Dist.,
897 F. Supp. 663 (D.R.I. 1995) (holding that teacher had a right
under the First Amendment to videotape potentially hazardous
working conditions at school, which were a matter of public
concern). Moreover, changes in technology and society have made
the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly
difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with
video-recording capability means that many of our images of current
events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital
camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are
now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a
reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why
the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn
on professional credentials or status…
On the facts alleged in the complaint, Glik’s exercise of his First Amendment rights fell
well within the bounds of the Constitution’s protections. Glik
filmed the defendant police officers in the Boston Common, the
oldest city park in the United States and the apotheosis of a
public forum. In such traditional public spaces, the rights of the
state to limit the exercise of First Amendment activity are
“sharply circumscribed.” Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local
Educators’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37, 45 (1983). Moreover, as in
Iacobucci, the complaint indicates that Glik “filmed [the officers]
from a comfortable remove” and “neither spoke to nor molested them
in any way” (except in directly responding to the officers when
they addressed him). 193 F.3d at 25. Such peaceful recording of
an arrest in a public space that does not interfere with the police
officers’ performance of their duties is not reasonably subject to
In our society, police officers are expected to endure
significant burdens caused by citizens’ exercise of their First
Amendment rights. See City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 461
(1987) (“[T]he First Amendment protects a significant amount of
verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers.”).
Indeed, “[t]he freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or
challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of
the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation
from a police state.” Id. at 462-63. The same restraint demanded
of law enforcement officers in the face of “provocative and
challenging” speech, id. at 461 (quoting Terminiello v. Chicago,
337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949)), must be expected when they are merely the
subject of videotaping that memorializes, without impairing, their
work in public spaces.
The fact this is now and has always been the law of the land, I would expect our police officials to have a firm understanding of the aforementioned constitutionally protected rights.
Hyannis News has yet to receive official word or a phone call back from Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald.
P.S. The following is for all the law enforcement officials who abide by the laws and highest precepts of this great nation… old schoolin’ brought to you by the late great “Heavy D!” [press play]:
Hyannis – This is by far the most difficult article I've ever had to write.
One of the major criticisms of HyannisNews.com is its policy to always depict the efforts of police in a positive light. Some see that as unbalanced reporting. I see it as an opportunity to highlight the many good and hard working police officers in the Town of Barnstable. I'm proud of my reporting and I challenge anyone to find one negative article on police work from all the years I've been posting stories on HyannisNews.com.
I'll save you the time and trouble, negative police stories do not exist. I have written nearly 1000 short and longer pieces since 2007. My policy has been that when it comes to police officers ethically performing their duties, I'm always on their side. Always.
Having personal experience working as a Barnstable Cop, I know how hard it is for officers in the field. Police work is often a thankless job, where the reputations of good officers often suffer because of the corrupt and criminal actions of a very small minority of bad apples.
Today, I was assaulted by a bad apple.
The incident unfolded as follows:
My job is to take photos and tell a story. Last night at approximately 6pm I was following a lead where a patrol officer was investigating a suspicious black bag behind a building next to the Village Green on Main Street.
The patrol officer was inspecting a bag in plain view and I was naturally curious as to what was going on. When the severity of an investigation is unknown, it is the policy of Hyannis News to take several still photos of the action just in case it turns out to be something interesting.
I took my first photo and looked up. The officer was angry about something, but having an earplug for the scanner in one ear... I was unable to discern precisely what she was trying to say. I only sensed she was very angry.
I walked closer so I could hear, she told me she didn't want her picture taken or placed on the internet in one of my stories. Her tone struck me as aggressive. She wasn't requesting I withhold a photo as a courtesy for some good reason. She was basically ordering me not to take pictures of her whatsoever.
I explained that although I was completely within my rights to take photos of her performing her duty out in the open, I have often withheld photos as a courtesy for different valid reasons. For example, when an officer is undercover I will crop him out or at least blur his features. One time I took a photo of female cop who had been struggling with an illness, once I learned she didn't like the image in my story, I found a better photo of her from a different angle... I actually was not obligated to change a thing, I did it as a courtesy. Her treating me like a human being also helped...
The officer tonight wasn't asking for a courtesy, she was rudely telling me basically to never photograph her ever. I tried to ask her why and that only seemed to make her more angry, to the point where she became verbally abusive and insulting.
I felt as though she was possibly trying to brush me off a lead (which has happened in the past)... basically intimidating me from getting at the truth. I decided to take another photo. She descended into a bizarre tirade of insults. She basically told me everyone hated me (meaning her coworkers)because I took photos. That I was an “asshole" and that nobody liked me... In fact, she was so angry I was unable to understand her point, other than she was basically trying to discourage me from doing my job, while at the same time attempting to hurt my feelings. It almost worked.
Later in the evening I looked back at her hateful words and considered the source. She seems to be a very angry and sick individual. Sure some people may hate my guts. But I know for a fact some Barnstable Police Officers are my friends. Several officers actually enjoy my work.
I'm not an asshole and I happen to like who I am. I'm a good person. I'm friendly and considerate. And I do not like to be pushed around by bullies.
As for the cops who unfortunately hate my guts, that's their business, it's none of mine... and I could give a rat's ass.
At this point I raised my camera and took another photo. The officer stopped, abruptly turned and said the following, “I swear... take one more photo and I'll take that camera and smash it in your face.”
My heart jumped; I could not believe what I was hearing; I was being assaulted in broad daylight for simply doing my job. I was fearful, anxious, and angry all at the same time. This was a threat to cause me bodily harm. It was also an attempt to intimidate me from exercising my rights.
If this “officer” was capable of making criminal violent threats, she was capable of anything.
At this point I no longer looked on her as an “officer of the law” in the true sense of the term, but rather as a belligerent thug with way too much power. How dare she, or anyone, threaten to harm me. She had no right! She had absolutely no right whatsoever!
Both frightened and upset, I turned on my video camera and began to document for my own safety. In this case the “cop” happened to be a thug with the full force of the law on her side. I wanted to know why she felt she could threaten to bash my camera in my face!
The following video is just part of what occurred right after being threatened:
EDITOR'S NOTE... AGAIN, THIS VIDEO OCCURS RIGHT AFTER THE OFFICER THREATENED TO BASH MY CAMERA INTO MY FACE. I WAS FRIGHTENED, UPSET, AND EXTREMELY NERVIOUS AFTER JUST HAVING BEEN ATTACKED... THE OFFICER SAW I WAS NOT GOING TO TOLERATE HER BULLYING ME BY SAYING THAT SHE WAS GOING TO TAKE MY CAMERA AND SMASH IT IN MY FACE... I WAS IN SHOCK AND MY SPEECH IS JITTERY AND UNPREPARED... IT IS WHAT IT IS... RAW VIDEO AND EMOTION AFTER JUST HAVING BEEN ASSAULTED.
Regardless of whether or not I'm “an asshole that nobody likes,” nobody, not even a person wearing a Town of Barnstable police badge, has the right to threaten or intimidate me from doing my job and exercising my constitutional rights.
After recording, the officer worked the crowd of bystanders by holding me up to ridicule. She made many false comments and accusations intended to embarrass me in front of the public and back up officers.
It's also important to note here, that I have a heart condition that causes palpitations and rapid heart beats. I was very upset and somewhat scared, my heart was racing and I was very uncomfortable because I was being illegally detained against my will. I was not at liberty and my rights were being disregarded. In fact I asked if I was free to go. She said no. I asked if I was being detained. She stated yes. It was clear I was not at liberty...
Rarely am I that upset, but when I am I need medical care to regulate my heart. Fearing a possible unwarranted trip to either jail or the hospital, I called my father to come down to the crime scene. My dog was locked up in my nearby truck and I was worried about her should something happen to me. After calling, the very unprofessional officer began to ridicule me for calling my father... the whole situation was the most bizarre attack I've ever endured. I was dealing with someone who had already stated she wanted to strike me, she professed a profound hatred towards me, and she seemed hellbent on twisting the law to give her the upper-hand in squelching rights.
She wanted to lock me up... but there was only one problem, she did not have probable cause.
Lieutenant Micheal Clark arrived and removed the arresting/detaining officer from the scene. He took her around the corner of the building where they had a lengthy conversation.
My father arrived to check on me and told the two backup officers that in almost 50 years I had never ever been in trouble with the law... not once. My father was as confused and worried as I was about the way things were going.
Bottom line: The officer returned to the scene and with a tear in her eyes asked me if I was “happy.” I took that to mean she didn't get the news she wanted. She was hoping she could charge me with felony wiretapping or something else. It was absurd. Of course she couldn't. I'm a known photographer filming a uniformed officer in public – one that had just committed an assault.... on me!
Regarding her question as to whether I was happy: No. I definitely was not happy. I was in pain on many different levels.
While speaking with Lieutenant Clark, he asked if I wanted rescue. I considered it. But from my experience of presenting in the emergency room with severe tachycardia, it usually meant an overnight stay at the very least. My daughter was dropping over later to say her goodbys on her way back to her final year at Cornell University, where she is studying to be a surgeon and has a position doing paid research and surgeries on the brain. I'm very proud of her and I wasn't going to let tonight prevent me from saying goodby.
If you're reading this, it's because I managed to survive. (I'm not kidding, it took several long hours for the discomfort in my chest to go away.) I'm still very upset about the whole ordeal. Things definitely could have been much worse and I'm very thankful a level headed Lieutenant was able to come by.
While talking to Lieutenant Clark I learned the name of the hateful cop. Gretchen Allen was wrong and she definitely caused damages.
I never dreamed I would be writing something like this against a member of the police force. But when I gave it some thought, I realized that I was not actually dealing with one of Barnstable's finest. Not even close.
To summarize the encounter:
1. I was threatened...
2. I was assaulted...
4. held up to ridicule in front of the public...
5. ordered to sit on the ground
6. and falsely detained by an angry ignorant person with too much power...
7. Deprived of my liberty and constitutional rights...
All I set out to do tonight was to take photos as I always do, return home, and kiss my little girl goodby for the winter. I did not plan on being the victim of an assault.
From what I've observed, Officer Allen is not fit for the role of police officer in the Town of Barnstable.
Tonight was nothing more than an attempt to intimidate and discourage HyannisNews.com from growing and reporting the truth.
Hyannis News will provide updates to this unfortunate series of events after I have rested.
Robert Bastille, HyannisNews.com
P.S. Sorry, there will be no music video on this piece... this was not a happy day, nor was it some sort of victory... it was a lose-lose situation and it breaks my heart.