Florida sheriff sued for manhandling woman who recorded traffic stop

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The Broward Sheriff's Office is facing legal trouble from a Florida woman who claims she was physically removed from her car and thrown in jail for a night — all for what the sheriff’s deputy described as the “felony” crime of recording their traffic stop conversation.

Brandy Berning was pulled over by BSO Lt. William O’Brien for driving in an HOV lane, she told a local ABC affiliate. The two engaged in discussion about her traffic offense before Miss Berning told the officer she was recording their talk with her cellphone.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you I was recording our conversation,” she said on the audio recording.

The audio indicates Lt. O'Brien said a few seconds later: “You are committing a felony. Hand me the phone.”

The officer then climbed into the car and tried to grab the phone from her hand, Miss Berning said. She is heard on the audio demanding that the police officer remove his hands from her body.

The audio: “Get off me! You are breaking the law! I am not getting out of my car. Get off me!”

Miss Berning was charged with traffic violations and resisting arrest, but not with any offense related to recording the conversation. She spent the night in jail, but all charges were eventually dropped.

She’s since notified the Broward Sheriff's Office through her attorney that she’s suing for battery, false arrest and false imprisonment.

“Touching me, trying to take my personal belongings from me, trying to put me in jail for something so small,” she told the news station.

The incident comes as a former BSO sheriff, Paul Pletcher, fights criminal charges of smashing a woman’s phone after she tried to videotape him during a 2011 stop.

Recording police activity is legal under the First Amendment as long as the recording doesn’t interfere with the officers’ duties — a decision notably upheld in 2011 by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals in a Massachusetts case.

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