Sean McLinden was sitting in the back of a police vehicle, waiting for a ride home from a drunken driving checkpoint, when he decided to take pictures and the officers took offense.
Mr. McLinden had admitted to officers at the Emsworth checkpoint that he had a few glasses of wine, and they had ordered him out of his car, according to his attorney, Timothy O'Brien, who filed a federal lawsuit over the incident late Friday.
The officers wanted Mr. McLinden to take a blood test in a trailer at the Route 65 stop, but he said they should take him to a hospital for that, he claimed. They told him they could not transport him, but that he could have a relative come to get him and his car.
When officers saw him snapping pictures with his cell phone, according to the lawsuit, they "approached the police van, and forcibly removed [Mr. McLinden] from the van, throwing him to the ground, handcuffing him."
They also piled on the charges, according to Mr. O'Brien. Mr. McLinden, 58, of Sewickley was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and destruction of property for breaking a police vehicle door handle.
According to his lawsuit against the police departments of Ohio Township, Robinson and Bellevue and five officers, the treatment was retaliation for Mr. McLinden's exercise of his right to record the activities of law enforcement.
"This is one of those cases that should never happen," Mr. O'Brien said. "No one should have the police using force against them, filing criminal charges against them, for nothing more than engaging in protected conduct under the First Amendment."
Solicitors for the municipalities did not comment.
Mr. McLinden went through the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for first-time offenders, resulting in expungement of the charges. He disputed the allegation that he refused a blood test in an appeal of his license suspension, but lost.
Mr. McLinden suffered injuries and embarrassment, according to the lawsuit, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Mr. O'Brien said that his client's job status as an information technology consultant with a firm that works for the FBI was not affected.
Law enforcement agencies are occasionally sued for acting against people who record their actions. In 2010, in response to another such lawsuit, the Allegheny County district attorney's office redistributed a memo reminding police departments that it is not against the law for a civilian to make a video recording of an officer in the course of his or her duty.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published March 3, 2014 9:58 AM