Two stories in this week’s This is True illustrate a problem that’s growing, when it should be shrinking. Let’s start with the stories.
Uninvited Guests in Scary Costumes
Cardravious Crump said his Halloween party “went great. No problems, no nothing.” It was roughly an hour after the business student’s party ended that he and his mother discovered two people in the kitchen without invitation — uniformed Tate County, Miss., sheriff’s deputies, who said something about underage drinking. “Well then, I can talk to you,” said Carla Echols. “But can you step outside?” They wouldn’t, so Echols tried again: “You’re going to get the [expletive] out of my house ’cause I did not tell you to come in here.” Her son started to record the incident on his phone, but the officers ordered him repeatedly to stop. Crump wouldn’t — as the sheriff confirmed, citizens generally have the right to record officers at work — but when a deputy reached for something and the 20-year-old African-American man couldn’t see what, he yielded. What the deputy, whose name was left out of a news story, was reaching for were his handcuffs, but he didn’t arrest anyone. (AC/WREG Memphis) …Two people in this story were dressed as law enforcement. Another two tried to uphold the law.
Yes, We Can
“You can’t record me. You can’t record me. You trying to go to jail?” demanded an officer from the Gary, Ind., Police Dept. Edward M. Strauss, 36, stood his ground. “Well, I can,” he told the officer. “This is a public street and, by the way, you’re live on YouTube right now.” Strauss was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and resisting law enforcement. “You know what? You just violated my rights!” Strauss said as he was being handcuffed. He didn’t file a complaint about the officers, but the department opened an internal affairs investigation after seeing the video: recording a police officer on the job from a public place is not illegal, Chief Richard Allen confirmed, adding “We do not condone the violation of any rights given to citizens.” Even though the officer clearly knew the device Strauss was holding was a phone, and he was recording her, police filed an affidavit saying they found his “black and metallic looking object” that “may have been a weapon” was “suspicious,” and the charges have not been dropped. He is scheduled for trial next month. (RC/Northwest Indiana Times) …Citizens know recording the police is not illegal. The chief knows it too. Why don’t the officers?
The second story (written by me: “RC”) was actually held for a bit to wait for the results of Gary P.D.’s internal investigation, which was noted to be in progress when this story first came out in the Northwest Indiana Times on October 6. An update in the paper yesterday (October 27) had no news on the results of the investigation, so when the Crump story came up later (written by contributor Alexander Cohen: “AC”), I decided to run them together.
The Chief’s Boss
Gary’s mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson, declined to comment on the case since it clearly could end up being a “personnel matter” — which is reasonable — but made a comment about the idea in general. “I fully support the importance of the police being able to engage in constitutional law enforcement,” she said, “as well of the right of citizens to record their interaction with the police and all city agencies.”
And she feels that way even though she recently found out an interaction she had with a citizen had been recorded without her knowledge. That’s reasonable too: she’s a government official.
And certainly, the police feel they should be able to record citizens to gather evidence of wrongdoing, yet they object to the public looking back?
The Times story notes that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had struck down an Illinois law prohibiting people from making recordings of police officers in May 2012. There are many other such federal cases affirming the right, as well as many cases such as those reported above of officers harassing citizens for exercising that right. When “the man” with a badge and a gun trespasses and deny citizens’ rights there, inside the citizen’s own home, something is definitely very wrong.
And I say this as a former sheriff’s deputy.
Contempt of Cop
What it really comes down to is what Los Angeles police officer turned novelist Joseph Wambaugh wrote about in The Blue Knight in 1972: “contempt of cop.” They can’t come up with a valid reason to order citizens away from a public place, so when they don’t give them a “yes sir!” and move on, the cop gets mad. They distract themselves, turning their back on what they say is important business to get into someone’s face, and make arrests that they know will not stand up in court.
Arrest is the least of it. Sometimes that unnecessary use of force ends up turning contempt of cop into a capital offense, when the officer shoots someone in anger because some damned citizen actually wanted to exercise his or her rights.
Here’s the video Strauss made. Notice how he didn’t get in the cops’ faces, they got into his — it’s clear that he was well away from where they were working. While doubtful, if he did step onto private property, it was because he was trying to back away, making the “justification” for challenging him as bogus as “you can’t record me”:
Let’s Get Real
If the female officer was so concerned that the device he was “recording me” with was possibly a weapon, why is she shielding her eyes from that “weapon”? It’s obvious she felt no safety threat from it whatever, because she clearly knew it was a phone, not a weapon.
In my opinion, that means the affidavit officers filed in court borders on perjury.
“The Gary Police Department immediately began conducting an internal investigation,” wrote Chief Richard Allen wrote on Facebook, “reference the incident in our City where a citizen filmed officer’s [sic] on a call for service.”
Good for him, but when are we going to see the results of that investigation? And when are we going to see courts slapping down police departments hard for continually doing this?
Well, that has in fact started. Some examples:
- Colorado Springs to pay cameraman $41,000 after First Amendment audit of police — 2018, Colorado. As part of the settlement, police agreed to make it a part of their “general orders” that “taking photographs or recording from a public place in and of itself does not constitute suspicious activity.” Still, the City of Colorado Springs said the settlement should not be construed as an admission of liability or guilt — “To the contrary,” it said, “City specifically asserts that no wrongdoing, misconduct, or liability … occurred.”
- Man Arrested For Recording Police Awarded $275,000 — 2017, New Hampshire, in favor of a man who was arrested — again in his own home — for recording the officers searching the house because his roommate was suspected of selling drugs. That article also notes a $57,500 settlement in 2014, also in New Hampshire, in favor of a woman who dared to record the officer when she was stopped for an alleged traffic violation.
- Appeals court backs First Amendment right to criticize police — 2017, Minnesota), where a federal court not only upheld Brian Hoyland’s right to film police on the street in front of his house (from 30-40 feet away, from his doorway), but that officers were not immune from being sued for false arrest.
- Fall River man arrested for filming police officer awarded $72,500 — 2016, Massachusetts. The officer in this case used the charge that the recording constituted a violation of “wiretap” laws — a common tactic.
- Illinois Woman Arrested for Recording Cop Accepts $117,500 Settlement — 2015, Illinois. This one was especially ridiculous: the cop asserted that the woman was recording him without her permission — the law he was relying on for that demand had been declared unconstitutional years before — while the scene was being filmed by a news crew, who went unimpeded by the police.
And that’s just a few results from a quick search. There are clearly many, many, many more.
Financial Settlements are Not Enough
What’s the real problem here? Taxpayers are on the hook again and again for these settlements. It’s time for criminal charges against officers who violate citizens’ rights when they know it’s not illegal for citizens to record them (says, again, the former sheriff’s deputy!) Especially when they make up bogus claims in court filings in an attempt to justify their unprofessional — and illegal — actions.
Citizen recording (and, indeed, officers’ bodycams!) will record one of two things: the officers being professional and courteous, or being unprofessional and perhaps violating the law while supposedly trying to enforce the law. Objecting to such filming is tantamount to admitting they expect the latter to be revealed, rather than the former.
Absolutely, the citizens need to stay out of the way and not interfere with police operations, but when that’s not a factor, buck up, boys and girls: it’s part of the job.
In January 2019, Gary Police Chief Richard Allen recommended a reprimand of Officer Nicretia Jones for ignoring Strauss’s Constitutional rights, making false statements, and engaging in conduct unbecoming of an officer. Shortly afterward, Strauss filed a lawsuit against the police department.
The chief confirmed Strauss was “not close enough to cause an actual interference” to the officers in the conduct of their duty, and “Ofc. Jones had previously received procedural justice training that specifically trained her to handle this situation differently. Her failure to comply with her training is highly detrimental to the Gary Police Department and the city.”
Yet the charges against Strauss were not dropped until April. Days later, the police commission accepted Jones’s resignation; she had apparently tendered it several weeks before.
Strauss did not drop his lawsuit, which lawsuit contends that Jones relied on her own false statements to justify his arrest, and “Without Strauss’ recording those lies would perpetuate, causing further loss of liberty.” — which is apparently true.
The suit also alleges that in pinning him down, one officer pressed his knee on the back of his neck, causing injury. Thus, it contends, not only should Jones be a defendant in the lawsuit, but the other two officers, Cpl. James Nielsen and probationary Ofc. D. Kirk, should also be held accountable. “If you hold your officers accountable, then there’s no reason to file a suit,” Strauss said. “Because that’s really all I want, accountability.”
If that’s the case, then why does the suit also name Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Chief Allen, and Deputy Chief Brian Evans? Especially Allen: he’s apparently who immediately initiated the investigation of Jones, and definitely the one who held her “accountable” by recommending a reprimand significant enough that she resigned! In any case, as far as I can tell the lawsuit is still pending.
Another Officer in Trouble! Gary P.D. has a new chief (Brian Evans), and the same old problem: in the fall of 2020, the department confirmed two officers were under investigation for (you guessed it!) arresting a citizen who was recording an officer’s interaction with a woman. The unnamed videographer objected to the officer “manhandling” the woman, and it appears he interfered with the arrest. He was arrested himself, charged with …resisting arrest. One officer has been put on leave. Strauss is mentioned again as someone who was arrested in a different city for allegedly injuring an officer (see links below).
Let’s be very clear here: it’s outrageous for the police to threaten, arrest, or work to stop people from photographing them, including on video. When they do it, they should be reprimanded and personally fined — and, when a citizen’s Constitutional rights are clearly violated, sued so a court can assess proper actual and punitive damages.
That said, while citizens absolutely have a right to record the police, there’s the other side of the “rights” coin: responsibility. Not only do police have a responsibility to control the scene as they are investigating crimes and detaining suspects, citizens have a responsibility to stay out of the way. In this particular case, it appears Strauss did just that: he was on his own property, then on the sidewalk in front of that property, and the officers actually crossed the street to approach him.
In this day and age, police and citizens both should realize that their actions are likely to be recorded — by others with camera phones, by security (even “doorbell”!) cameras, and by officers’ body-worn cameras — and all should act accordingly: both sides should be held accountable for their actions.
- “Chief: Filmed Officer Should Be Disciplined for Violating Man’s First Amendment Rights”, Northwest Indiana Times, 23 Feb 2019, Updated 28 Jul 2020
- “Gary Officer Resigns after Video Blogger Arrested for Filming Police, Charges Dropped”, Northwest Indiana Times, 6 Apr 2019, Updated 28 Jul 2020
- “Video of Officer Arresting Bystander Prompts Threats, Chief Says; Cop Put on Leave”, Northwest , 7 Aug 2020, Updated 17 Sep 2020
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