A man arrested for filming police at a Mardi Gras parade contends that the officers violated his First Amendment free-speech rights and his Fourth Amendment right to be free from a false arrest and excessive force.
In March 2019, Jacobi Cage attended the parade in Metairie, La., with friends. Along the parade route, a disturbance broke out requiring police activity. Cage filmed the police activity on his cell phone. An officer told Cage to move back over a mesh barricade limiting the parade route. Cage complied and kept filming.
However, according to his complaint, a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy slapped Cage’s cell phone from his hand. Cage then flipped his middle finger at the deputy, an act of expressive conduct under the First Amendment. Another officer grabbed Cage, dragged him over the barricade and took him to the ground. Cage alleges that several officers then engaged in excessive force.
“The defendants’ wrongful conduct toward Mr. Cage was captured on a cell phone recording by a bystander,” the complaint in Cage v. Lopinto reads. A copy of the recording is attached as an exhibit to Cage’s complaint.
The officers arrested Cage and charged him with disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and battery on an officer. Cage contends that the false arrest and excessive force were retaliatory acts for his First Amendment-protected activity of filming and criticizing the police.
The complaint alleges that the officers involved “violated Mr. Cage’s First Amendment right to film police activity in a public place.” The complaint also charges that Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto III has “exhibited a policy, practice, and/or custom of callousness and reckless disregard for the civil rights of residents like the plaintiff.”
Several courts have held that individuals have a First Amendment right to film police activity. The public has a First Amendment right to receive information and ideas about how law enforcement officials are performing their duties. Several courts also have held that individuals have a First Amendment right to engage in the middle finger salute.
David L. Hudson Jr. is a First Amendment Fellow at the Freedom Forum Institute, and a law professor at Belmont University who publishes widely on First Amendment topics. He is the author of a 12-lecture audio course on the First Amendment titled, “Freedom of Speech: Understanding the First Amendment” (Now You Know Media, 2018). He also is the author of many First Amendment books, including “The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech” (Thomson Reuters, 2012) and “Freedom of Speech: Documents Decoded” (ABC-CLIO, 2017).