As was recently covered here, a Morgan County, IL state’s attorney by the name of Robert Bonjean declared his intentions to selectively enforce a state law declared unconstitutional by the Seventh Circuit Court.
The law in question was the 1960 Eavesdropping Law that forbade recordings without the consent of both parties. The court stated that using this statute to prevent citizens from recording police was likely unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, a citizen (Randy Newingham) was detained for doing exactly that. Bonjean said he wouldn’t issue a “blanket statement” on citizens’ recordings and would take it on a “case-by-case” basis.
The local police chief, Tony Grootens, added to the mess by declaring the detained citizen was ignorant of the law governing recordings, issuing a statement that showed it was actually the chiefwho misunderstood the law. Bonjean then issued a low-key threat, mentioning he had three years to toy with the recording citizen by holding a pending felony charge above his head. Grootens himself suggested he might arrest Randy Newingham if he continued to record on-duty police officers.
When officials start screwing around with the Constitution, they tend to draw the attention of parties very interested in preventing this sort of abuse. Bonjean’s “I do what I want” statement drew the attention of the ACLU’s Illinois branch, whose senior staff counsel, Adam Schwartz, fired off a letter to the state’s attorney demanding some answers.
Mr. Newingham’s action–audio recording an on-duty police officer in a public place–is protected by the First Amendment. See ACLU v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 651 (2012). The Illinois Eavesdropping Act violates the First Amendment as applied to such audio recording. Id. This decision is controlling throughout Illinois. For your convenience, a copy of the opinion is enclosed.
By August 23rd, please advise me whether civilians in Jacksonville will face arrest, and in Morgan County will face prosecution, if they audio record on-duty police officers.
Well, that clears that up, hopefully. It’s tough to say how Bonjean arrived at the conclusion that a circuit court decision affecting the entire state somehow excluded his jurisdiction, but both he and Police Chief Grootens seem to be projecting an air of almost-deliberate obtuseness about the court’s decision.
Or it could be they just didn’t get the memo. (Schwartz has rectified that by sending a copy of the opinion.) Sure, the Supreme Court issued its kick to the curb back in November of last year, but maybe news travels more slowly when it’s news you don’t want to hear.
At this point, there has been no response from either Chief Grootens or Robert Bonjean, according to the Jacksonsville Journal Courier. I would imagine any further comments will be run by a legal team rather than directly from Bonjean’s or Grooten’s brains to their mouths.
ACLU letter reproduced on the next page….