Forget Being Arrested For Filming The Police, Now They're Arresting People For Sitting

from the something-seems-wrong-here dept

We’ve had a number of stories lately about people being arrested for filming the police. Thankfully, two court rulings have suggested that such actions are perfectly legal.

Of course, what good is that when the police are coming up with any reason possible to arrest people. Boing Boing points us to a story of a police officer in Atlanta who arrested a disabled woman after throwing her to the ground, after she refused to move from the chair she was sitting on. When she refused to move, the officer grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm, causing her to fall to the ground, injuring her shoulder in the process. After being taken to the hospital, she spent the night in jail for “disorderly conduct.” For sitting in a chair.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution report notes that a police review board reviewing the case found that she was falsely arrested, and also noted that the officer in question had made 38 arrests over a five-month period — with 27 of them being similar charges of “disorderly conduct.” They noted that the 27 arrests were “three times the amount made by two other officers that patrol the same area, during the same shift.” All of this suggests an officer abusing his power, by simply claiming “obstruction” for anyone who doesn’t follow his commands, even if there’s no legal basis for them. The board recommended that the officer, Kenneth Thomas, be disciplined. To date, the police department has done nothing.

There are, of course, always stories of police abusing their power, but it’s for these reasons that the right to film police in their activities is important. Good and honest police officers (of which there are many) should support such things. If they’re doing their job within the confines of the law, they should be happy to be filmed or photographed.

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Comments on “Forget Being Arrested For Filming The Police, Now They're Arresting People For Sitting”

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Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Welcome to Atlanta!!!!!

Atlanta PD is really bad with this kind of behavior. They act like they are the LAW, when all they are is people charged with enforcing the law.

I have lived here in the ATL for over 20 years and this kind of activity is largely centered in the APD, not the other areas around Atlanta.

Just look at the stories about the Red Dogs. Search red dogs atlanta problems.

But this is everywhere. Police are taking their job as be the law instead of being what they should be which is enforcers of the law. They think they are above what they are charged with enforcing.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

I think it was Bill Cosby who said that cocaine was a personality intensifier. If you’re a friendly guy, you’ll be a really friendly guy on cocaine. And if you’re an asshole, you’ll be real asshole on cocaine.

I think the same is true with guns and badges. If you give a prick a gun and a badge. He’ll become the biggest prick you’ll ever meet.

I can’t understand why police departments don’t use psychological testing to weed these nutjobs out.

Beta (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There’s a self-selection process involved. The people who would tend to abuse police power are the very people who find it most attractive, so they’re strongly drawn to a career in law enforcement.

Besides, who would administer the tests? The very people who are letting Kenneth Thomas get away with this behavior? To put it another way, what kind of cadets would Kenneth Thomas prefer to recruit?

Matt (profile) says:

Well, now wait...

Generally, I agree with the moral outrage and the tone, tenor, and message of this article. But this quote gives me heartburn:

“Good and honest police officers (of which there are many) should support such things. If they’re doing their job within the confines of the law, they should be happy to be filmed or photographed.”

Logic very like this has been used to deprive people of their privacy for decades. These images and film segments can and will be used improperly, and even good, honest cops doing their job legally should be concerned about it. That does not mean they should not support the right of people to film their arrest, or that it should be illegal. But cops should not be naive, either. The point is not that cops have nothing to fear, but that the right of the people to be free from brutality and abuses of authority is worth the tradeoff.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well, now wait...

I think such limitations should be applied only in very limited quantities. Unless they’re “urinating for the greater good” then I see no reason for them to be recorded; but if they’re taking phone calls, doing paperwork, etc on the publics’ dime… the ‘we the people’ should have every right to view that boring stuff if we wanna.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Well, now wait...

“These images and film segments can and will be used improperly, and even good, honest cops doing their job legally should be concerned about it.”

Have them record their own actions, then, if that’s their concern. If the records differ, forensics will come into play. Or, for that matter, if there’s only one record that contradicts the other party’s claim, forensics can be brought to bear.

Discovering the truth when there’s a conflict is what the courts are for.

“The point is not that cops have nothing to fear, but that the right of the people to be free from brutality and abuses of authority is worth the tradeoff.”

Which tradeoff do you mean? The one where people don’t get to record police beating up innocent civilians because they’re on a power trip, so that they can relax and feel safe from scrutiny?

bknabe says:

Re: Well, now wait...

If you’re not doing anything wrong…

I hate that type of statement. I am a strong supporter of citizens right to film police in the public performance of their duties. That doesn’t mean you can be filmed anywhere, anytime just because you’re a cop. It means if someone films you arresting someone, you can’t take their camera or memory card. If they interfere with an arrest or an investigation trying to film you, then they face the consequences.

AndyD273 (profile) says:

Re: Well, now wait...

Thats easy, the police already have dash cams in their cars. Just put a shoulder mounted web cam on every officer. The web cam would store several hours of video, but also beam it to a backup recorder in the car, and/or send it wirelessly back to the station house. When an officer gets back to the station he would just pop the camera onto a recharger that would copy off the data, and also the copy that’s in the cars storage.

Then, to make sure there isn’t tampering, instantly send a copy to a state level backup center.

Also, if an officer has gaps in his video, or something, then there would be some disciplinary action because it could mean he was doing something wrong.

If I was a cop, I would want something like this, so that if someone brought some doctored video, or video out of context (the part where the perp shoots first gets cut out to make it look like the cop shot first).

ned morlef says:

Re: Re: Well, now wait...

Then ,where would the money come from to keep the circle of justice running? these easy pickins arrests is what makes the law go round. Look at weed. If it weren’t for weed your cop wouldn’t be able to afford a fleet of new cars and tasers. Easy pickins is all of us usually orderly and law abiding types. we don’t normally carry weapons and the cops know it.

Benthere Donethat says:

Re: One day...

Already happened… years ago, specifics hazy, but two plainclothes cops in NYC (they didn’t know each other) each tried to order/intimidate the other (for whatever their perceived reasons were… a look, attitude, not responding to their orders); each drew and fired their weapons and shot each other (to death). Makes me think of some street demonstrations where the only people who show up are undercover copy, snitches, agitators agitating on behalf of various fed agencies in order to justify the heavy-foot response by authorities. Otherwise sane folks know to avoid certain phony demonstrations. Other legit demos don’t get covered by the mainstream news (such as the recent ones on Wall Street in NYC).

bcnclear (profile) says:

APD will not interfere with recording

I have no doubt this officers record shows signs of a lack of leadership within the APD, we should note that the department has issued a statement that they will not interfere with a citizens right to record police activity in public.

After all the talk here about the issue, it makes me question the motives of the people posting the articles when you overlook something so relevant as allowing recording of police officers to post only the negative.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: APD will not interfere with recording

Did you even read the article? He’s saying that this example shows why the right to film cops is important.

It’s easy to slap a “Disorderly Conduct” charge on someone when it’s your word against theirs. Does this mean we need to remove disorderly conduct from the lawbooks? No. But we do need a way of ensuring the law is properly enforced. It’s a lot more difficult to get away with falsely arresting someone when you’re contradicted by clear video evidence.

Your point is that APD has declared that citizens have a right to record police. No shit we have a right. Why do we need to focus on a declaration that tells all of us what we already know? Especially since the APD wouldn’t have to declare it there wasn’t some confusion among their ranks about citizen rights.

Jeffhole (profile) says:

Time for the Federal government to step in and make it a national requirement that all police/peace officers must wear, during all on-duty time, big dorky-ass hats with video cameras in them. The big ones, from the 90s, VHS. And they can’t be shut off. And if the lens is covered, the officers stun gun will zap them and make them go “GURHKTTTPPPFFFF!” and fall over.

bcnclear (profile) says:

APD will not interfere with recording

Really, after all of the articles on her about police departments going after citizens for filming their officers you feel the need to attack a department because they AGREE that you do have that right.

My point is not that this incident was right in any manner, simply that always attacking and not ever giving props when a correct decision or interpretation is made does not help anyone.

bcnclear (profile) says:

Re: Re: APD will not interfere with recording

The first link is from Illinois, the second from Massachusetts.

This is a post derived from an article in the AJC, which also previously reported that APD agrees in your right to record the police.

You argument would hold more weight had the post referred to the APD’s acknowledgement of your right to record police and noted that this incident has come to light with the help of a citizen recording the police.

There is no argument that the officer is out of line and that there are problems with leadership inside the APD. There is yet another article today highlighting APD officers negligence in understanding their job duties.

However it doesn’t excuse ignoring facts that this site complains about on a daily basis that actually conforms to the accepted viewpoint.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well done, Mike

…let’s take a story that’s, (1) completely devoid of anything technological, then (2) blindly assign blame to the entirety of the law enforcement profession, even when it was outwardly noted that the police officer in question has an abnormally high rate of these types of arrests, calling into question his overall legitimacy.

Did you even read the article before making your ignorant, blanket statements?

Is this even TechDirt, or did I stumble onto Perez Hilton? Stick to technology, Mike…or just keep pumping out this stuff that’s wholly irrelevant to your site…whatever.

“Additionally, the review board found that during a five-month period, Thomas had made 38 arrests, 27 of which were for disorderly conduct. The total of 27 arrests for disorderly conduct was three times the amount made by two other officers that patrol the same area, during the same shift, the letter sent to Turner states.”

JMT says:

Re: Well done, Mike

“Is this even TechDirt, or did I stumble onto Perez Hilton? Stick to technology, Mike…or just keep pumping out this stuff that’s wholly irrelevant to your site…whatever.”

Did we all miss the part where you were put in charge of deciding what goes on someone else’s OPINION blog? If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Since you obviously keep coming back, you’re clearly either an idiot or a paid shit stirrer.

Thomas (profile) says:

If anyone had doubts..

that cops that abuse people get away with it this shows it for sure. The days are long long past when cops in general really try to protect people. I think part of this is due to the environment – you work in a nasty neighborhood, you become just as nasty as the criminals that live there. They develop a mentality that there are only perhaps 3 classes of people: Cops, Criminals, and Criminals we haven’t arrested yet.

The police probably will give the cop a commendation for reducing crime and disorderly conduct.

I would much rather encounter a mugger on the street than a cop. A mugger usually only wants your wallet/purse and phone, plus you have a chance to fight back or run. With a cop, you can be thrown down and arrested if you fail to look properly obedient and subservient. An encounter with a cop can result in a criminal record, extensive legal fees, and time in jail, regardless if whether or not you committed any crime.

I remember walking around one of the wealthier suburbs of Boston along 128, and saw a cop getting ready to ticket an illegally parked car; I looked up to see what the sign said, and the cop starts screaming at me “You can’t park there! It is illegal!!!” I stepped back and said “But it’s not my car! I’m parked legally 3 blocks away!” I try to avoid that town now.

Anonymous Coward says:

I bought a 720P camera that looks like a phone. Now I turn it on, put it in my shirt / coat pocket (taped) and leave it on.
The police are not your friend. The sad thing about this country is we would not be allowed to demonstrate like they did in the middle east. Our government will kill us. Just like Iran, Syria and every other country scared of losing control.

hmm (profile) says:

I’m waiting for someone to say she deserved to be thrown to the ground because the concept of “disabled woman sitting innocently on a chair not hurting anyone or getting in anyones way or breaking or even LOOKING LIKE she was breaking any law” is patented.

I say we send everyone a shakedown letter for $500 if they don’t want to be sued for being a disabled woman sitting on a chair……

We can bundle all the cases together and then just drop the suits where the defendant either a) isn’t a woman or b) isn’t sitting on a chair

Anonymous Coward says:

Why do disabled people get public sentiment?
What I read is simple: A woman refused to comply with what a cop REQUESTED and was forcibly subdued.

Assuming that the property owners called the police to have her removed from the “vacant lot.” Who is at fault? She does not have a right to trespass and being non-complainant with (we shall assume) a request from the property owners being handled by the police… can she not be arrested for this?

Excessive force may seem applicable, but lets say she showed signs of agitation (again, really not that far of a stretch); should the officer try “gently forcibly removing her from the chair” and she decided to use the chair as a weapon… who would be at fault? Should the police officer risk his safety simply because someone complains of joint pain?

Now, he can either strike up a trespassing charge to detain her (as releasing her in an “agitated state” may result in her committing a more serious crime.) or throw this “Disorderly Conduct” charge (If the property owners, and she was agitated). When people’s emotions run high, they are more liable to act on impulses… the charges are only a way to protect her and let her “cool down.”

This is called sensationalism, you don’t know ANYTHING about the circumstances, but based on some flimsy data (and STATISTICS of all things) you make unfounded conclusions.

We know nothing based on the source articles, the cited number of arrests could be completely justified (and might just be, given that they don’t cite the incidents, but say “this number is above average”)… yet you get the idea that he’s making unreasonable requests and abusing his authority.

The ONLY thing the article says is that he abrasively subdued an elderly woman (and even helped her to her feet and into the patrol car… just to show his machismo) for “uncited reasons”. There’s a few specs here and there that imply that trespassing may be involved, but nothing is definitive.

Let’s take the stance that the police officer is a big bully; what if that “poor old woman” was a “terrorist.” Would you be cheering him on? Would you APPLAUD his “beating up” of “terrorist scum?”

See, this is a double standard; regardless of your response to the trap question, there are plenty of people who WOULD be cheering… but don’t want to be in the “terrorists'” shoes.

She is not being compliant, rather than take the matter up with the courts, she’s directly refusing the REQUEST of a police officer… The police officer did not beat her up, he did not smash her head repeatedly against the pavement (or at least, it is not specified)… the only thing he did was a very simple takedown move. He did what he felt was NECESSARY to subdue her.

Who are we to judge those who risk their lives everyday if a smooth and simple takedown (again, not a beating) is necessary… who are we to take so few facts and make such large judgments? To place such DISRESPECT towards officers of the law? To sue, not over the ‘REQUEST’ but the way the police officer handled the defiance?

He may be a sociopath or he may just be a man doing his job. but the public wants to find fault with everything, it wants scandals, corruption… it DEMANDS IT. So the details are trimmed, manipulated even, and we are spoon fed Sensationalist Articles…

And we don’t even stop to question what really happened, or why.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I had no idea cops were so delicate

Do you believe that agitation should be a criminal offense?

If the cops are such delicate little flowers that they have to beat up on disabled women to make sure they don’t get themselves a boo-boo, perhaps they should consider another line of work. It’s just plain dangerous to give a fearful person a weapon and set them loose on the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

When there is a power asymmetry ...

… the law imposes a *higher* standard on the person that has more authority.

This is the reason why statutory rape laws target the more senior party: the individual with more power has a greater duty to behave.

And yet, when the police are involved, suddenly this logic disappears: they have a badge and a gun, and then crimes that would put a civilian behind bars result in a slap on the wrist (when instead the penalty should in many cases be *greater*).

So, AC with the longer post before me, what would a reasonable person have done in such an instance? If she was indeed trespassing, wouldn’t a simple ticket have sufficed? How about a “please don’t come here again, or I’ll have to give you a ticket.”? Or how about actually talking to the person to figure out what they were doing and why? Why should a civilian do some random act just because a police officer requests it? You seem to have a skewed perspective of why we have police in the first place. As for the statistics you dismess, apparently the officer’s record showed THREE TIMES the number of “disorderly conduct” arrests of the other two officers in his area. Not exactly a trivial difference.

Arresting Power (user link) says:

Thanks for this short article. We’ve been working on a film about police abusiing their power and community resistance to it in Portland OR. The right to copwatch and film and KEEP the recording is one of the things we have going for us right now and we need to fight to keep it.

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