Police Who Seized Woman's Phone As 'Evidence' Of Bogus Crime Now Complaining About Criticism

from the whirlwind-reapists-constantly-surprised-by-ferocity-of-harvest dept

Photography Is Not A Crime is in the middle of another police department vs. citizen feud and this one, like the last, is based on dubious “crimes” and a police department’s disingenuous legal response to being slammed with phone calls as a result of its own actions.

The story starts out with a Louisiana woman (Theresa Richard) being arrested by Crowley Police Dept. officers for recording inside a police station. This was the latest in a long line of attempts by the CPD to silence and intimidate Richard after she filed a lawsuit against the department for false arrest and imprisonment stemming from an incident last year, when she (along with other members of her family) were accosted by police officers and accused of stealing a safe.

Richard’s husband and brother were confronted by cops for removing a safe from [Richard’s] burned house after the fire inspector had deemed the investigation over.

The two men had wheeled the safe over on a dolly because the house was only down the street from where Richard lived.

But police arrived and accused them of stealing the safe. Richard said they also assaulted her and ordered her back inside her home. However, they ended up leaving without arresting anybody.

Richard couldn’t get anyone at her local paper to cover the lawsuit against the CPD, so she took her story to a neighboring town’s paper. Once it was published, she purchased copies to hand out, including one which she attempted to give to the Crowley police chief. That’s when things went downhill.

[W]hen she entered the department to drop the newspaper off while carrying her camera as it was recording, she ended up getting arrested for “remaining after being forbidden,” which appears to be Louisiana’s version of trespassing…

Now police are refusing to return her camera in complete violation of the law as the United States Department of Justice specified in its guidelines from last year.

The guidelines allow warrantless seizures only if there is “evidence of a crime” and then only for as long as it takes to secure a warrant. The CPD has now had Richard’s cellphone for more than a week (since Dec. 1st).

PINAC posted this story, along with contact info for the Crowley Police Dept. and the mayor of Crowley, Greg Jones. Carlos Miller also encouraged readers to connect with the department through its Facebook page.

It must have been a long couple of days for the Crowley Police Dept., which fired off two letters through the city attorney complaining about the “harassment” it has experienced as a result of the PINAC’s post and Richard’s own Facebook page detailing her experiences with the department.

The first letter, sent in response to Richard’s lawyer asking for the release of her cellphone contains this ridiculous paragraph. (All punctuation errors, etc. in the original.)

Mrs. Richards posting and contact with the Police Department have increased and are beyond free speech. She is expressing more than mere opinion she is inciting and causing others to harass, confront and threaten physical violence against police officers. Email to the City website from other person express a willingness to physically confront officers and warnings of violence when encountering police. Her statements are encouraging other to engage in acts and confrontations which could lead to serious injury to police officers, innocent bystanders and themselves.

A thorough examination of Richard’s Facebook page shows nothing of the sort. Here’s everything that’s been posted dealing directly with contacting the CPD.

Feel free to call the chief and ask how long he plans to keep the video of my so called disturbance. His number is (337)783-1234. Regan’s number is (337)783-7141. Share! [link]

Thanks again for the flood of support! They know we are not going away, they know that I will not be intimidated and they know that I will keep doing what I KNOW is right. [link]

I would like to ask a favor of my friends living here in Crowley or surrounding areas to PLEASE let me know if you have ALSO been harassed over sharing my post or supporting my family by members of Crowley Police Department. I starting to hear from a few of my closest friends that officers from CPD are threatening to make things difficult for people who support me. PLEASE let us know if this has happened to you. Send me a PM and I will forward it to my attorney. You can also email me at tcrichard400@gmail.com. [link]

The second letter, sent a day later (the day PINAC published its article), is more of the same. The posting at PINAC obviously greatly increased the amount of incoming calls. The city’s lawyer gripes about this being turned over to the court of public opinion and notes that these calls won’t result in the release of Richard’s phone. He also claims the PD’s phone system potentially won’t be able to handle the influx of calls, although he seems to indicate that it’s working just fine so far.

It goes on to complain that some of the calls have been “abusive” and contain “foul language” and “name calling.” While it’s certainly not the preferable outcome, it is often the inevitable outcome when thousands of people are made aware of something that previously only a handful of individuals were privy to. City Attorney Thomas Regan wraps up his second letter with this:

I urge you again to ask your client to restrain her actions and conduct herself appropriately and ask that her followers do as well. They can use Facebook and other social media to express themselves, but it is necessary that she immediately deescalate the direct attack and threats to police and telephone harassment.

There are several problems with this. First off, as noted above, Richard isn’t making threats or “direct attacks,” nor is she encouraging others to do so.

Second, and most importantly, how utterly condescending (and colossally stupid) for the city (via its attorney) to “allow” people to discuss this incident on “social media.” Of course they can do that. And there’s nothing the CPD can do about it. But they also have the right to seek the redress of grievances directly. If the CPD isn’t enjoying this negative attention, then maybe it will think twice before using BS tactics to seize citizens’ recordings.

Then again, maybe it won’t.

Since her arrest last week, she said they have posted signs banning photography and videography in the station. As if a makeshift sign would trump the Constitution.

The city’s attorney may be hoping two stern letters will “deescalate” the bombardment of calls to the PD — a direct result of its own actions — but it seems more likely that it will only get worse before it gets any better. As we saw earlier, some police departments are willing to bend criminal law to silence criticism, and from the looks of these letters, CPD may decide to become a member of that select group. It’s already used a questionable criminal charge as justification for seizing Richard’s cellphone and has taped up a sign that indicates it’s in the business of making up rules on the spot. Charging someone with harassment or intimidation or assault or whatever would hardly be unexpected.

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Comments on “Police Who Seized Woman's Phone As 'Evidence' Of Bogus Crime Now Complaining About Criticism”

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Scote (profile) says:

No ganders allowed.

I love the “No **outside** audio or video allowed”. Which means that they are recording audio and video which they will selectively use against citizens, but citizens are not allowed to have their own recordings.

That means that there is no privacy issue since the area is already under surveillance, so no expectation of privacy. So all their hemming and hawing is just privileged, cops have special constitutional rights nonsense.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:


I am far more familiar with CA laws, but I am troubled by them using a law akin to Trespass (it sure sounds like the definition of Loitering/Commercial Trespass) on a person on public property with a legitimate reason for being there.

Unless there is a posted “Restricted Area” sign in the lobby of the police station (doubtful), or it is associated with school or college property that the person has no legitimate reason being at, or in, in front of or near a public bathroom (for the purposes of lewd conduct,) public property (as opposed to property that is private but opened to the public,) should be the one place that it isn’t illegal to loiter.

Otherwise those who take trips to the park for a picnic better start watching themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: WTF...

You’re right. “Remaining after being forbidden” in a public place isn’t another term for trespassing it’s another term for loitering. You can’t trespass on public property. She had every right to go there. If she didn’t leave after they asked her to, that is a completely different charge.

CPD, meet Streisand. And as they say in small towns like Crowley, you must be new around here. Welcome to the the Internet. You’ll learn one way or another.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: WTF...

You’re right. “Remaining after being forbidden” in a public place isn’t another term for trespassing it’s another term for loitering. You can’t trespass on public property. She had every right to go there. If she didn’t leave after they asked her to, that is a completely different charge.

Usually trespass and loiter laws have more to do with the intent to commit another crime than by themselves. I remember a Deputy DA telling me once that an arrest of a person just for sitting at a bus stop all day when they had no intention of doing anything else was a lousy reason to arrest them for loitering. Of course, if the guy was panhandling or assaulting people, then that would be a good reason, but just sitting there wasn’t. Usually, unless the cop has a good reason to do otherwise, they just tell the person who is loitering to move on, maybe do some sort of field interview if necessary, and then go back into service.

Of course, this is the same Deputy DA that got hassled for taking pictures on a public sidewalk. Pricks exist everywhere, I am afraid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: WTF...

“Remaining after being forbidden” in a public place isn’t another term for trespassing it’s another term for loitering.

Um, no. Did you READ the law? It was even linked.

No person shall without authority go into or upon or remain in or upon or attempt to go into or upon or remain in or upon any structure, watercraft, or any other movable, or immovable property, which belongs to another, including public buildings and structures, ferries, and bridges, or any part, portion, or area thereof, after having been forbidden to do so, either orally or in writing, including by means of any sign hereinafter described, by any owner, lessee, or custodian of the property or by any other authorized person.

Clearly this is like trespassing, not loitering. “Go into or upon” is sufficient to trigger the law; the “or remain upon” is only there so you can’t say you don’t have to leave when told because you’re already there.

That said, it’s ridiculous to apply it to someone who is briefly in the public area of a police department. This deserves ANOTHER lawsuit for denying her the equal protection of the police. Unless, of course, there’s something we’re not being told, like if she had been there for a half hour and was repeatedly told that they didn’t want a copy of the newspaper. (Which brings up another question – why did she feel it necessary to show them a copy of the paper? To gloat? To present evidence relevant to the lawsuit? To try to convince them that they were wrong? And why would you go there in person instead of having your lawyer do it?)

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh I’m sure she handed over the phone willingly*, so probably not.

*’Willingly’ in this instance meaning after being presented with the threats of a fine, being arrested again, maybe a little time ‘cooling off’ in a cell for ‘obstructing justice’ if she refused to hand over the ‘evidence’/camera.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No, that is the last thing that should be happening, as that would give the police in this case some justification for the over-reaction, and you can bet they’d lay the blame on her for ‘inciting violence’, which would just likely end up with her in a cell.

As long as it’s just phone calls, or other non-violent methods of protest/criticism, the police will be the ones looking bad if they escalate it, but the second you get someone physically attacking the police over the matter, you can bet the PR guys in the department would be all over that, and things would swing the other way.

indio007 (user link) says:


Well, it finally happened. The cops are going to the next step in obliterating the 1st amendment. The is one exception the free speech. It is if the speech presents a clear and present danger. It’s obvious from the letters that this is whag the police are trying to establish. Mark my words. More and more govt offcials are.going to be taking this tact in order to supress the voice of the people.

Anonymous Coward says:

I suggest the lady have her attorney contact the State Attorney General for Louisiana. Were I her I would also be in contact with my congress critters to put pressure on this one horse town without a horse. I would then follow that up with contacts to newspapers as well as tv and radio stations for the story of the century over police over reach. You can’t get enough eyeballs on this sort of story. The light of day tends to make corruption take a hike.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Two words: nut job

That always seems to be the response from certain members of the public. ‘She was obviously doing something wrong, we just aren’t hearing the whole story. The police are perfectly within their rights.’ Well? Fuck. That. The police regularly overstep their authority. They have no extra rights, they have temporary permissions.

Badges Don’t Grant Extra Rights.

Just because they are wearing a badge does not mean they are NOT a thug.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Not Unconstitutional

> Since her arrest last week, she said they
> have posted signs banning photography and
> videography in the station. As if a makeshift
> sign would trump the Constitution.

The sign isn’t in violation of the Constitution. While the police have no right to stop people from video recording them in public, they have every right to control who films what inside their police stations.

The fact that a building is a public building doesn’t mean the public has an automatic right to film or record whatever goes on there. The White House is a public building but you can’t record whatever you like there; the Pentagon is a public building but you can’t even bring cell phones or any device which can record or transmit into whole sections of that building; the Supreme Court itself meets in and hears its cases in a public building but it has banned video, audio, and television recording of the proceedings.

The police have a legitimate right to limit who can record what goes on inside a police station. Hell, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department bans everyone– even other cops and federal agents– from even bringing cellphones and recording devices into the main jail complex downtown. It’s certainly not unconstitutional to do so.

Having said that, everything else that the Crowley PD did in the above case is rubbish and they deserve criticism for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

and this sort of thing will continue. why? because the way to stop it is to make sure that anyone from law enforcement or other services are fully aware that they will be in deep shit if they do not stop this type of behaviour! when the rules are not made specific enough so that those in law enforcement that rely on the lack of knowledge of other people to then bring problems, dont know what to follow, they need to be threatened themselves. after all, they are quick enough to threaten others!

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

The CPD are claiming that callers are engaging in a campaign to “harass, confront and threaten physical violence” against police officers? WOW! Really?

Isn’t that the same thing that police officers do to the general public? So, it’s okay when the police “harass, confront and threaten physical violence” but it’s not okay when the people do the exact same thing?

The CPD need to realize that if they expect the people to not engage in this sort of activity then the police need to lead by example. If the police engage in activity to “harass, confront and threaten physical violence” against me then you can be damn sure that I’m going to reciprocate in kind.

“Due unto others (aka, the police) as they would do unto you”

Anonymous Coward says:

Jamaica or Maui?

I wonder where these officers are planing to go for their coming paid vacation?

Law enforcement – the only legal job where it pays to fuck up.

Well other things considered fucking up pays well also.
Drug dealing.
Underground fighting. “Ask Michael Vick, he knows, woof” JK PETA so for the love of god keep the bucket of blood away from me and my whale skin hubcaps, sheesh.

Those all pay very well if you’re cool with the risk of being locked up for a very long time.

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

If the police cannot be trusted to uphold the laws and stop abusing the constitutional rights of the people then they cannot expect us to do the same and respect the rights of these police officers.

I’m a law abiding citizen but if the very people who are supposed to be protecting us cannot follow the law and make thing sup as they go along, THEY become the problem NOT the solution.

Our taxes pay for these police officers, NOT the other way around. COPS are supposed to uphold the law and the constitution. Just because they have a badge and a gun doesn’t mean a damned thing and it sure as hell doesn’t give them a free pass to violate our rights.

I suggest that the idiots who are protecting the police in this thread take a close look at yourself. Even Hitler had his informants in Europe during World War II.

wallyb132 (profile) says:

This is why I love Tech Dirt

Its not enough to just post an article about the bullshit attempts of law enforcement at violating the rights of a citizen.

No, Tech Dirt had to make sure and post the portions of her facebook post that included the phone numbers of both the police chief and the city attorney. Lets take this so called harassment and intimidation of public officials to a national (potentially international) level.

You gotta love it, keep up the good work!

And considering how many other news sites run stories based on TD’s work, this story will be read by potentially millions in no time flat, I’ll bet these small town backwoods cops haven’t even began to feel the fallout of their douchbaggery…

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