Texas Deputy Displays Ignorance Of Laws He's 'Enforcing' While Trying To Shut Down A Citizen's Recording
from the the-grabbing-hands-grab-all-they-can... dept
Want to record the police while they’re on the job? Go ahead, the Supreme Court has (again) upheld your First Amendment right to do so, provided you aren’t on the wrong side of way too many exceptions. This is your right, no matter what the officer 90 feet away is yelling about “interference.” That’s just plain ignorance on the part of that officer.
But be careful doing it in Texas, where apparently the news hasn’t trickled down to members of the Gray County Sheriff’s Department. Anonymous blogger Ex-Cop Law Student details everything this peace officer gets wrong in his lengthy quest to shut down a citizen’s recording efforts.
At 3:00 into the video, the traffic stop has concluded and Andrew starts to walk away, when he is confronted by Deputy Stokes of the Gray County Sheriff’s Office. Stokes, who has since become employed by the Pampa Police Department, immediately attempted to seize the photography equipment as evidence. Stokes refuses to get a supervisor on request, tells Andrew to stop talking, and threatens to arrest Andrew when Andrew points out that he has a First Amendment right to speak. When that happened, Stokes said that “I think I’ll make up stuff” and attempted to grab the camera from Andrew (at 3:50).
“Seized as evidence.” This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Stokes wants to grab a camera (and actually gets ahold of it twice) but can’t think of a good reason. So he falls back on this one. “Evidence” of what exactly, though? The concluded traffic stop? Stokes’ own ignorance of the legal right to record law enforcement officers? The charges he’s going to attempt to bring against the photographer? It would appear to be the latter, especially with Stokes’ assertion that he’s willing to “make up stuff.”
But the obnoxious, abusive stupidity doesn’t end there.
At about 4:20, the demand for ID begins by Stokes and he really shows his ignorance. First, as has been noted numerous times before, in Texas, under the Failure to Identify statute, one has to be under arrest to be obligated to provide their name, residence address, and date of birth to an officer. Otherwise, the statute merely makes it an offense to provide fictitious information.
“Failure to identify” is a Texas law enforcement specialty. Where other departments are forced to rely on nebulous charges like “interference,” “disorderly conduct,” wiretapping law violations or straight-faced discussions of law-enforcement-centric urban legend “the cellphone was a gun,” Texas officers deploy “failure to identify” when shutting down camera-wielding citizens. But the law doesn’t work the way they think it does.
After making this “error,” Stokes compounds it by claiming — in direct opposition to a great many court decisions (as well as common sense) — that it’s illegal to record police officers. This, too, fails to stick. The citizen knows the law better than Stokes does and other officers begin to realize Stokes is taking this interaction in a dangerous direction and convince him to walk away.
While I would not expect police officers to know every nuance of the many laws they enforce, I would at least expect them to remain current on the ones that are routinely abused. If they don’t know the details, the problem lies with those responsible for training them. There’s no excuse (other than simply being a bad cop) for an officer to make this many errors in the course of one interaction. Any law enforcement agency should be up-to-date on court decisions and (especially) lawsuits that target oft-disputed areas like citizens with cameras. At this point, an officer needs to be wilfully ignorant to remain this out of touch with the reality of the situation.
Stokes tried intimidation and his own, very personal version of legal statutes to get his way. He even tried a little physical force. But the cameraman stood up to him and he was ultimately forced to back off. But that’s only one of the several dozen interactions between police and people exercising their First Amendment rights. The person doing the recording stayed out of jail and was never charged with anything, somewhat of a rarity in situations where laws are improperly forced into service by someone with more power than knowledge.