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New Indiana statute, according to an ACLU lawsuit, prevents officers from being held accountable



South Bend, Indiana – A newly passed Indiana statute that forbids civilians from coming within 25 feet of law enforcement officials is being challenged in a new lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Indiana.

The ACLU contends that the law, which took effect on July 1, violates residents’ constitutional rights to “observe and record the police.”

“The right of citizens to observe and record the police is a critical check and balance,” said Katie Blair, advocacy and public policy director at the ACLU of Indiana. “Whether it’s a traffic stop, a police response to a mental health crisis, or other police-community interactions, community members cannot hold police officers accountable if they cannot observe what is going on.”

The new law (House Enrolled Act 1186) mandates that individuals provide police a 25-foot buffer so that they can carry out their obligations if cops ask them to do so. If a member of the public is ordered to keep back and refuses, police may detain them and charge them with a Class C misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of $500 in fines and up to 60 days in jail.

While supporters of the law assert that it keeps both people and police safe, detractors assert that it grants police officers “unbridled discretion” and permits “viewpoint-based discrimination,” according to the ACLU.

“This gives police officers unchecked authority to prohibit citizens from approaching within 25 feet of the officers to observe their actions, even if the actions of the citizens are not and will not interfere with the police,” said Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana.

The case was brought on behalf of Donald Nicodemus, a South Bend-based citizen journalist who monitors police behavior by watching and photographing their interactions with individuals on the “Freedom 2 Film” YouTube channel.

The purpose of Nicodemus’ channel, according to the lawsuit, is to “expose inappropriate or problematic law enforcement behavior, shining a light on it will help to end the behavior.”

However, the lawsuit asserts that because of the new rule, which permits police to remove Nicodemus from scenes with “unbridled discretion,” he is unable to properly “check and balance” the actions of the police.

The lawsuit claims that on July 20, Nicodemus was in South Bend watching law enforcement activities when he repeatedly received orders from police to go back 25 feet or face arrest. Then, to go back another 25 feet, as the officer “apparently interpreted” the statute to allow him to “repeatedly push back persons 25 feet at a time.”

According to the lawsuit, Nicodemus “was not interfering in any way with the police investigation” but was repeatedly ordered to move back much beyond 25 feet, which rendered him unable to observe and document police officers.

The lawsuit claims that because there are “no standards to constrain the officer’s ability” to enforce the 25-foot buffer, police can push people back unchecked, even if they are not interfering, and that this removes the “accountability” that watching and recording officers offers.

“The statute violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutional,” the lawsuit states. “Appropriate declaratory and injunctive relief should be issued.


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