Denver police arrest reporter for recording

Two Denver police officers arrested a local journalist after she attempted to record an ongoing incident on a public sidewalk.

Key Players

Susan Greene is editor of The Colorado Independent, a statewide online news outlet based in Denver. She is also a reporter for the online publication.

Officers James Brooks and Adam Paulsen are the two Denver Police Department (DPD) officers who were on the scene. Brooks and Paulsen placed Greene under arrest. 

Further Details

On July 5, 2018, Greene encountered a nude man “in crisis,” as the situation was described by the DPD, on a sidewalk in Denver.  By the time she arrived, he was sitting handcuffed on the ground, surrounded by police officers. Greene wanted to investigate further what was going on but first pulled out her cell phone and began recording what she saw.

Two officers on the scene, Brooks and Paulsen, approached Greene and told her that by recording them she was violating HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which applies only to information relating to medical care or health insurance providers). Greene responded by citing her First Amendment rights, which officers said did not supersede HIPAA in this particular instance. Greene then attempted to photograph the officers and was subsequently put in handcuffs to restrain her from doing so. This exchange was caught on camera by the DPD officers’ body cameras, and the footage was released publicly in late August 2018.

Greene was held in a patrol car for about 10 minutes before being released. 


Greene threatens legal action; officers face no charges

Greene and lawyers for The Colorado Independent threatened legal action against DPD but ultimately opted not to sue. Officers Brooks and Paulsen were docked two days’ pay, but punishment did not extend beyond that. Denver District Attorney Beth McCann released a statement explaining that there was insufficient evidence to file or prove criminal charges. 

The DPD opened its own internal investigation and on Aug. 29, 2018, said the local district attorney had declined to file charges and that the department respects the First Amendment rights of all individuals. The police also stated that when a resolution was reached, the public would be informed.

Denver Police Department implements First Amendment training

As a result of this incident, the DPD, in July 2018, made it a training requirement for officers to review relevant First Amendment policies. Additionally, the next month another training bulletin concerning First Amendment issues was published for all members of the department to review. It made clear that the public has the right to record police activity as long as the person doing so “is in a public place where they are legally allowed to be present, are not placing themselves or anyone else in danger, and do not materially interfere with police conduct.” According to DPD guidelines, officers “shall not threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage from recording” these individuals and also must not “detain or arrest the individual.”

Settlement reached

On Sept. 30, 2019, the DPD agreed to settle with Greene for $50,000, according to The Colorado Independent. With the settlement, the city pledges to strengthen First Amendment and sensitivity trainings for police through at least 2024. The DPD also will update its policies on police bias and search and seizure of recording devices.