Feb. 26--Andrew Henderson, a Little Canada man criminally charged after he videotaped activities of a sheriff's deputy and ambulance crew, said he could have settled the case by pleading guilty to a petty misdemeanor and paying a $50 fine.
But Henderson, 29, rejected a prosecution offer and insisted on a jury trial, which began Wednesday morning in Ramsey County District Court. Four lawyers were in attendance plus a handful of spectators interested in civil liberties issues.
"It's the principle of it," Henderson said after opening statements in the case. "It's our First Amendment right to film law-enforcement personnel."
But Kevin Beck, prosecuting the case for Little Canada, said Henderson is not being prosecuted for filming a police officer. He's being charged with interfering with emergency medical care, Beck said.
Henderson is accused of disorderly conduct and interfering with an ambulance crew for the Oct. 30, 2012, incident outside his apartment building shortly before midnight on the 200 block of East County Road B2.
An ambulance crew and Ramsey County sheriff's deputies were called to the building to check on the welfare of an intoxicated man who also lived there, who had been in a recent auto accident and who wasn't answering or returning his sister's phone calls.
As the drunken man was being led out of the building, Henderson sat on a bench nearby and took out a portable video camera that he customarily carries and that he frequently uses to film police activities, Henderson's lawyer, Kevin Riach said.
Beck said Henderson was videotaping emergency medical workers conducting a health assessment of the man. Beck said "very personal private information" was being relayed while Henderson was filming.
Beck said one medical worker walked over to Henderson to ask him to stop filming and Henderson refused. Then the emergency worker walked to a deputy's squad car to get the police to stop Henderson, a measure that possibly delayed transport of the drunken man to a hospital, Beck said.
Riach said Henderson was sitting on a bench about 35 feet from the ambulance, filming the man being frisked and questioned by police. Riach said a building security guard asked Henderson what he was doing, and then a sheriff's deputy came over and said, "If I end up on YouTube, I'm going to be very upset," Riach said.
Riach said the deputy then took Henderson's camera "as evidence."
Henderson refused to give the deputy his name, insisting that he did nothing wrong, Riach said. When Henderson got the camera back from police about two weeks later, Henderson thought the video would confirm that he did nothing wrong, Riach said.
But the camera's battery was dead and no recording was saved on it, Riach said.
"The video is gone. But the truth remains," Riach said. "He just sat on the bench outside his apartment building doing what he had every right to do."
Riach is a senior associate with the Minneapolis-based Fredrikson & Byron law firm, which is providing free legal representation to Henderson in association with the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. Also at trial was John Lundquist, a partner with the firm.
Little Canada was being represented by Beck and Joseph Kelly, attorneys with the firm of Kelly & Lemmons of Little Canada.
During selection of the six jurors who will decide the case, Riach asked prospective jurors if they had strong feelings about individuals filming activities of police; several prospective jurors said that would be acceptable or even helpful.
Beck then asked if their feelings would change if it was someone filming an emergency medical technician or an ambulance crew at work.
Before the jury started, Beck said he wanted to be able to introduce evidence to challenge the credibility of potential testimony from Henderson because he had been discharged from the military under a less-than-honorable discharge and had faced a court-martial for desertion.
Riach objected, saying Beck's discharge was not evidence of a false statement. It was "just smear evidence to make him look bad in front of the jury," Riach said.