Updated – Douglas County prosecutors today decided to drop criminal charges against Brian Malone, a documentary filmmaker who was charged with “disrupting a lawful assembly” as he attempted to videotape a Douglas County school board meeting last summer.
“This decision reinforces that access to public meetings for the media and general public is a fundamental right that should never be criminalized,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein.
ACLU attorneys defended Malone in the case.
Malone was ejected from a school board meeting Aug. 7 after he stepped outside a newly-created taping area for journalists and declined requests to move back inside. He was cited for disrupting a lawful assembly and prohibited from stepping foot on any district property.
After a security official objected to the placement of the camera, Malone was removed from the meeting, issued a citation and told that he could no longer attend any future school board meetings.
The district later amended the order to allow Malone, a Dougco parent, to go to his daughters’ schools. But officials prohibited him from “using any device to record any audio or video” at those schools or any district property without the prior approval of administrator Mark Knapp. And they said he was supposed to petition for that approval five days in advance.
The school district lifted its order prohibiting Malone from attending meetings about a week after the incident following a letter sent by the ACLU of Colorado on Malone’s behalf.
“Our goal is to conduct board meetings in a safe, professional manner,” district spokeswoman Cinamon Watson said. “Guidelines for camera equipment are in place to avoid disruptions, prevent obstructed views for citizens wishing to attend board meetings, and to maintain safety and security for all those in attendance. Our meeting guidelines accomplish the goal while still providing access for camera equipment.”
“We count transparency as one of our highest priorities and have taken significant steps to engage the community in the district.”
Prosecutors dropped the charges after Malone’s attorneys filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. In the motion, Malone’s attorneys argued that the prosecution could not prove that his conduct caused a significant disruption and also that the school district’s restrictions on Malone’s newsgathering activities were “overbroad and unjustified restrictions on First Amendment-protected conduct.”
Before the Aug. 7 meeting, journalists and their cameras were allowed to move freely around the board room, with many choosing to set up so their cameras faced public speakers. The new taped area requires them to video from the side. Malone, at the Aug. 7 meeting, moved his camera to a spot he had previously used to capture speakers’ faces.
Malone, whose company is Malone Media Group based in Castle Rock, said he is producing a documentary on the deep divide in the philosophies surrounding the district’s recent reform initiatives.
“Brian is a filmmaker whose only goal was to capture the dealings of a publicly-elected body so that they could be better known by the public,” said one of his attorneys, Daniel Rech. “They had no right to remove him and definitely no right to charge him with a crime.”