Andrew J. Henderson spent a year fighting the criminal charges against him and said he was passed up for about 10 jobs when background checks showed that he was being prosecuted for filming paramedics and sheriff’s deputies outside his apartment complex.
But Thursday afternoon, it took jurors just under an hour of deliberations to decide that Henderson was not guilty of the charges filed against him — obstructing the legal process and disorderly conduct — by the city of Little Canada, vindicating his decision to reject a plea deal and buoying civil liberties activists and citizen journalists who’ve watched the case with interest.
“I feel great about the verdicts today,” Henderson said. “I knew they would see that no crime was committed.”
Henderson’s attorney, Kevin Riach, and Teresa Nelson, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota’s legal director, said the verdicts address the bigger and growing issue of citizens’ rights to film authorities. The ACLU served as co-counsel for Henderson, 29.
“It says that individuals have the right to keep an eye on the folks whose jobs are to protect us,” Riach said.
Kevin Beck, who prosecuted the case for Little Canada, said he was disappointed by the verdicts, but respected the jurors’ decisions.
The case began when a Wisconsin woman asked police to conduct a welfare check on her brother, who lived in Henderson’s apartment complex, because he was an alcoholic, had quit his job, was recently in a car accident and wasn’t answering his calls. Authorities thought the man might be suicidal, and were preparing to transport and commit him to a hospital in October 2012 when Henderson filmed part of the process outdoors.
Paramedic Joshua Norgaard testified that Henderson was 3 feet away, and that he asked Henderson to stop filming. Henderson testified that he was sitting on a bench about 36 feet away from the scene. Deputy Jacqueline Muellner, now retired, told the court that she confiscated the camera, stored it in her squad overnight and then in her work mailbox in an unsecure location for a day or two instead of the secure property locker.
Norgaard and Muellner said they were concerned about the patient’s privacy because it was a medical call.
Henderson said that when his camera was returned to him, the battery was dead and the video he recorded was gone. He said Thursday that he still hasn’t received an answer about what happened to the footage, which Riach said at trial would have exonerated Henderson.
Henderson’s case mirrors many cases across the country, Nelson said. His acquittal is a cause for celebration, Nelson said, but more work needs to be done nationally.
“It’s very troubling for the First Amendment that people can be prosecuted for this,” Nelson said.
Asked if he plans to continue filming police, Henderson replied: “Of course.”