New York Police Department officers threw a screaming, 61-year-old grandmother to the ground, breaking her arm in the process of an arrest captured on video inside a police station in Brooklyn. Her alleged crime: filming the police.
The body camera video, first reported on by the local news blog Hell Gate, shows Patricia Rodney surrounded by cops before one of them grabs her, takes her to the ground, and handcuffs her.
Rodney, a diabetic, was visiting the police station on Dec. 2, 2020, to pick up a copy of a police report she’d filed about a missing glucometer, as required by her insurance provider. But instead of helping Rodney, NYPD officers turned her away. When she became frustrated and pointed her phone camera toward them, cops grabbed her as she shrieked for help.
“The reason this case matters is because it shows how far we have gotten from a system where the police do anything like protect and serve,” Remy Green, Rodney’s attorney, told VICE News. “What happened here is this shocking overreaction to a diminutive grandmother making the smallest in challenge to their power.”
Rodney works at a local school as a cafeteria worker. She is medically required to check her blood sugar at least five times a day, and she needed a copy of the report faxed to her insurer for a replacement glucometer, according to the complaint. Despite being instructed by a cop two days earlier to return for a copy of the report later in the week, she was denied by at least three different officers, one of whom told her she’d have to go to NYPD headquarters in Manhattan for a copy.
In bodycam footage of the encounter, Rodney is cornered by multiple officers (the complaint says there were at least six) as she holds her phone. One cop tells her the officers in the room have their body cameras on.
“This is my camera,” Rodney says, holding her phone up. “I’m allowed to film.”
Cops tell her she can’t record, with one then pointing to a sign behind Rodney that says “Members of the public are prohibited from audio/video recording.”
When a third cop tells Rodney she isn’t allowed to record, he immediately grabs her arm, according to the footage. Four officers take the 61-year-old, who’s heard screaming in the video, to the ground. The cops tell Rodney, who is off camera, to stop resisting and turn around as the arrest continues.
“I’m a diabetic; that’s why I need that paper,” Rodney says while on the ground, sobbing.
“That’s it, now you’re going to jail,” the officer who initially grabbed her responds.
“Ma’am, all you had to do was cooperate,” the officer says as he lifts her face mask, which fell below her nose during the arrest, to cover her nose and eyes. “You did this to yourself.”
Rodney was taken to a local hospital for treatment after the encounter, where she remained handcuffed, according to the lawsuit. She had a fractured elbow, as well as swelling to both arms, elbows, and wrists, the complaint says.
She was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, disorderly conduct, and criminal trespass, all of which were later dismissed in court.
Rodney is looking for monetary compensation for the emotional damage and physical injuries caused by the arrest.
But the lawsuit also calls into question a controversial NYPD policy around filming the police. Three years ago, the department prohibited recordings inside police precincts. While the merit of the new policy was never officially settled, the New York City Council passed a law in 2020 declaring cops susceptible to legal action if they stop someone from filming police duties.
“The city council passed a new law that, at least on its face, completely conflicts with their policy, and the NYPD appears to have done nothing about it,” Green said. “It is either something they do not have the power to do, because they cannot rewrite city law, or it's unconstitutional because they can’t let you rewrite federal law.”
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.
The right to record police is widely accepted as a First Amendment right in the U.S. Over the past 25 years, several district U.S. courts of appeal have upheld filming the police as a constitutionally protected form of expression, so long as the person recording the activity isn’t directly interfering with police work.
But it doesn’t mean institutions haven’t tried to subvert this right. Republicans in Oklahoma, Florida, and most recently Arizona have passed laws that limit the freedom to record police in some way. Without an official ruling from the Supreme Court on the issue, the rules around what’s allowed and what isn’t are muddier than ever in some states.
Green hopes that a decision in their client’s case will provide some much-needed clarity on the matter in New York City.
In NYC, what is and isn’t allowed to be recorded appears to be unclear even to its leaders. In March, Mayor Eric Adams asked New Yorkers to either stand further back from cops when recording them or invest in a new phone to better capture moments. The suggestion was widely panned because the mayor failed to present examples of people being too close to an arrest while documenting it.
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