RULING: Winterville town policy preventing livestreaming traffic stops violates First Amendment

WINTERVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – A US appeals court judge has ruled that an alleged Winterville town policy preventing livestreaming police officers during a traffic stop is a First Amendment violation.

According to the ruling, Winterville Police Officer Myer Helms allegedly tried to stop Dijon Sharpe from livestreaming his own traffic stop back in October 2018. Sharpe filed a lawsuit against the Winterville Police Department and Officer Myer Helms IV alleging that a town policy preventing livestreaming traffic stops is a violation of free speech.

A district court ruled the town policy was constitutional, but appeals court judge Julius N. Richardson published a decision Tuesday that said otherwise.

Richardson’s decision reads that, “Defendants have thus far failed to establish that the alleged livestreaming policy is sufficiently grounded in, and tailored to, strong governmental interests to survive First Amendment scrutiny.”

Richardson goes on to say that Sharpe’s case stands, but he needs to prove the Town of Winterville actually has a policy against livestreaming.

The ruling says, “For his claim against the Town to survive the pleading stage, Sharpe need only plausibly allege that the Town has a policy preventing a passenger from livestreaming their traffic stop and that such a policy violates his First Amendment rights.”

However, Richardson agreed with the district court’s opinion that Helms is protected by qualified immunity.

“When the stop occurred, it was not clearly established that the officer’s actions violated the passenger’s First Amendment rights,” the opinion reads.