May 3, 2015
By Terrence T. McDonald
Jersey City Police Officer Ray Aponte is seen in a screen capture from a video posted on Youtube.com in which he confronts a man filming a traffic stop in Journal Square.
JERSEY CITY – The man who filmed a city police officer detaining him for recording a traffic stop is speaking out, saying it was his “responsibility” to document the incident.
Joseph Ferrante, who lives in the Jersey City Heights, told The Jersey Journal he’s “been known” to film police officers in the line of duty before, but has never encountered a problem until now. Ferrante, 20, said he will continue filming cops so there will be a record of the “actual truth” in the event of police misconduct.
“The police lately have been completely out of control,” he said. “Case after case of police brutality and police abusing their rights.”
On Tuesday, The Jersey Journal reported on Ferrante’s video, taken outside the Journal Square PATH hub on Saturday, April 25 at about noon. Ferrante said he was on his way from work when he saw a police officer, Ramon Aponte, stop to talk to a woman who had been idling on Kennedy Boulevard.
In the video, Aponte is seen asking Ferrante why he is recording the traffic stop, telling Ferrante he plans to seize the cell phone he used to record it and, when Ferrante refuses to identity himself or hand over the phone, then detaining Ferrante for about 10 minutes until a police sergeant arrives and tells Ferrante he is free to go.
Ferrante’s video surfaced as Jersey City prepares to join Newark and Paterson in outfitting their cops in body cameras, a response to recent examples of alleged police misconduct caught on video. One of the most recent, the April 14 fatal shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina, resulted in a murder charge against the officer who shot him after a pedestrian revealed he had recorded the incident on video.
Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, applauds Ferrante. Recordings like his are an important tool for public accountability, Barocas said.
Mickey Osterreicher, an attorney with the National Press Photographers Association, told The Jersey Journal on Tuesday that Aponte’s behavior in the video barely warrants concern, and even Ferrante said it “wasn’t that egregious.” But Barocas disagrees.
“The police officer unlawfully sought to seize the camera … and unlawfully detained the individual,” Barocas said. “We all have a right under the first amendment not only to express our opinion but to gather information as well.”
Aponte’s union praised him last week for handling the incident in a “professional way.”
Barocas said Jersey City and all police departments need to train officers on the right of citizens to record in public.
“This is a larger issue, and we’ve seen it all throughout New Jersey, which is simply put a disregard for the rights of people,” he said. “We have a right to film and often that has proved important in vindicating rights and exposing misconduct.”
A federal appellate court ruled in 2011 that citizens have the right to record public officials in public places. Osterreicher said only in rare cases can police officers seize video recordings citizens make of them.
Hudson County’s larger police departments mostly did not respond to requests for comment about their policies regarding citizens filming officers, or about whether they train officers on how to act when they are being recorded.
Jersey City public-safety spokeswoman Carly Baldwin, who said last week that Ferrante’s video spurred an internal affairs investigation, said the department has “reiterated” to all officers the city’s policy that citizens have a First Amendment right to record police, as long as they don’t interfere with the officer’s duties.
Richard Molinari, the police chief in Union City, said Ferrante’s video also resulted in re-training for that city’s officers on how to handle citizens recording them.
Though some officers chafe at the idea of being recorded in the line of duty, Molinari said the videos can hold benefits for officers.
“As a chief, I’m all for that,” he said. “I believe it will cut down on frivolous complaints against police officers. But certainly if a police officer is doing something wrong, violating someone’s rights, we want to know about that.”
Ferrante was blasted by some readers for “baiting” Aponte, but Ferrante told The Jersey Journal even if Aponte felt like he was being provoked, it was up to him not to take the bait.
“This is an individual with specialized training,” he said. “This is an individual who is trained to work with the public. He should know the law.”