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.
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I’ll update this page when the Gary police release the results of their internal investigation.
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