Arizona AG refuses to defend law restricting video recording of police

By Greg Hahne
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Published: Friday, July 14, 2023 - 2:21pm
Updated: Friday, July 14, 2023 - 2:22pm

Arizona legislation to restrict the ability of individuals to video record police is all but officially dead.

In a settlement this week, Attorney General Kris Mayes has agreed a law that would have restricted police video recording was unconstitutional.

Mayes filed paperwork this week in federal court agreeing with the challengers. Republican legislative leaders who were involved in getting the statute passed last year have refused to defend it. 

The measure would have prohibited individuals from recording within eight feet of any law enforcement activity unless given permission from an officer.

The settlement from the Attorney General’s Office said the law fails to meet constitutional requirements because it is not tailored to prevent interference with police officers.

All that remains is for U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi to sign the order permanently enjoining the state from enforcing it.

Sen. John Kavanagh, who sponsored the law, acknowledged that even Mark Brnovich, Mayes' Republican predecessor, did not show up in court last year when media outlets and the American Civil Liberties Union successfully asked Tuchi to issue a preliminary injunction. And the Fountain Hills senator acknowledged to Capitol Media Services that his efforts to have someone -- anyone -- defend the law have come up short.

"They just shipped a half-rotting corpse to Mayes,'' he said of what is left of his 2022 legislation.

The issue of ordinary people making video recordings has been at the forefront of public reaction to several high-profile interactions where the people being arrested ended up dead.

There was the 2014 incident where police in New York City were attempting to arrest Eric Garner for illegally selling loose cigarettes. That incident, captured on video, shows an officer grabbing the 350-pound man from behind, putting him in a choke hold, pull him to the ground and roll him onto his stomach.

He can be heard saying, "I can’t breathe! I can't breathe!'' repeatedly. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

More recently was the 2020 death of George Floyd, arrested by Minneapolis police on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. The four officers involved were fired the following day after videos taken by witnesses showed Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.

And the video played a key role in convicting officers of both state and federal charges.

The legal fight is going to cost taxpayers a bit of cash.

In agreeing to settle, Mayes has agreed her office will pay out $46,000 in legal fees to the law firm representing the media outlets and another $23,000 to the ACLU of Arizona,