Police, Yet Again, Arrest Someone For Filming Them, Saying It's Obstruction Of Justice

from the sad dept

These stories are becoming all too common. The police in Suffolk County, New York (where I grew up, actually), arrested a freelance news photographer who was videotaping the conclusion of a police chase. The police told him to "go away," while letting others stay. The guy, Phil Datz, moved further away, and started filming again... at which point he was arrested and charged with obstruction. After realizing that they had no case (and after the story got some press attention), it was announced that charges would be dropped and that "officers will undergo media relations training." But it's pretty ridiculous that such training is needed in this day and age. There's simply no way that police should be on the street if they believe it's illegal to film them in public.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:20pm


    Unless the guy was actually putting the camera in their faces, or parked his car so the police couldn't open their door, he wasn't obstructing anything. I think his "back off a bit and keep filming" approach was probably the correct one.

    Filming is not obstruction. In fact, NOT filming would be more obstructive, as possible evidence of what actually happened might be lost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    ricebowl (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:21pm

    I know..!

    They should totally get Officer Lyons to help with that 'media training.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Rikuo (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:21pm

    If they're that scared of being on film, then why aren't they arresting the owners of every CCTV system on the exterior of practically every building they walk in front of?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Manabi (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:28pm

    Re: Obstruction?

    And given the guy moved away when they told him to, even though (legally) he didn't have to, there's no way at all to claim he was obstructing anything with a straight face. Unless you're one of the numerous cops who are jerks.

    Carlos Miller that runs the Photography is not a Crime blog always refers to the charges in cases like this as "contempt of cop", which is (sadly) a much more accurate description for why they charged this guy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:32pm


    CCTV is not as prevalent in the US as it is elsewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    The eejit (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:37pm

    Re: Re:

    Even so, the point still stands. If they don't like being filmed, then why are they not 'requesting' that all films be turned over tot hem, and all the owners of the cameras arrested for the same thing?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:40pm

    Re: Obstruction?

    As other departments have claimed, being filmed makes them distracted as they have to think about what they are doing.

    Which says alot, if the idea that what your about to do is being filmed makes you change what your doing... are you doing the right thing?

    Would a better rule of thumb for these departments to tell their men to behave like your being filmed all the time.
    That way we could always get them on their best behavior and those few bad eggs who get the press attention and put the police in a worse light would crack under the stress and leave.

    Cameras are not huge giant things anymore, and most people have at least one on them at all times.
    Any group in "power" that spends time creating rules to stop people from filming them work, have made it perfectly clear that they are up to no good and should be removed.

    As long as someone is not jumping into the fray, pushing you out of the way for a better shot, or otherwise physically impeding your work... it should all be acceptable and expected.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    captain hindsight (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:44pm

    what the police should have done is arrested everyone in sight on the theory that any/all of them could be accomplices. so, no one on street, no cams, no problem.

    what the guy filming should have done is get one of those neat new cameras that look like a hands free headsets and go james bond on their asses. no telling what they'll do/say if they don't know it's recorded.

    what the da should have done is immediately drop the charges when they realized what asses they looked like, and further, send the arresting officers to some kind of training where they learn about media relations and so that...

    let me work on that last one some more and get back to you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    stop making sense... if you make sense they just look worse.

    I could give you a song and dance about because those cameras are passive, so the cop doesn't have to worry about being caught doing something wrong.
    I could point out most CCTV cameras on a good day can't get you a clear picture of anything.

    But I agree with the idea that police who make these arrests for people filming them are stupid. Using wiretap laws or anything else they can dream up to get these people is stupid. I think the real reason cops fear video is you can't put it on the witness stand and make it question what it thought it saw. You can't put pressure on a video to make it "unable to recall clearly" the events.

    Video rarely works out in the police's favor, but that is because other than Officer Lyons, a majority of video of police shows them in a negative light. I think it hurt their feelings so they get sad and lash out at people to feel better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Aug 8th, 2011 @ 3:50pm

    Military training coming home.

    Many move from military to police. In Iraq and other US warzones, it's not uncommon for journalists to be targeted, and I don't mean asked to leave: the few remaining independent journalists (who aren't EMBEDDED with the military) are brave indeed. Most famous incident was early in the Iraq war when a tank literally fired at the hotel where journalists were known to stay, because they were filming from a balcony. And there's another well-known instance in which they gunned down a cameraman while he filmed them. (I may be woozy on details: don't want to refresh my memory of those sickening war crimes. There's no shortage of such crimes if you look.)

    So expect more and worse as lawless thugs come home trained that who has the guns are in total control and pay no attention to rights of "civilians". Wars of empire never leave the "homeland" free. -- As John Galt said, "Brothers, you asked for it."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2011 @ 4:00pm

    Why are these vermin still employed as police officers?

    After all, they just committed a felony. (Not to mention that they are depressingly stupid for doing so; anyone with any brains at all would know how the endgame of this will play out.)

    Do we really want asshats like this wearing a badge, carrying guns, and "protecting" us?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    The eejit (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 4:03pm

    Re: Why are these vermin still employed as police officers?

    OF course, otherwise they'd be roaming the streets as lawless thugs. And that image was copyrighted by Tupac and Biggie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    VicMatson (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 4:14pm

    If they arrested the guy and then drooped it, isn't that false arrest?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    John Doe, Aug 8th, 2011 @ 4:16pm

    Some training is in order

    Sounds like their idea of media relations involves a gun and night stick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    lucidrenegade (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 4:33pm

    From watching the video, it's obvious that cop was and asshole on a power trip. Gotta love the "because I said so" bullshit. At the very least he should be fired.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    DCX2, Aug 8th, 2011 @ 4:44pm


    That's what I was thinking. The police need to start suffering consequences for improperly arresting people who film them, otherwise this will never stop.

    "Media relations training" is not a sufficient consequence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Greg G (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 4:46pm

    Bad boys, bad boys!

    After all those years of the TV show "COPS", it really is mystifying how police these days can't cope with the even larger presence of cameras.

    Granted, the TV show was voluntary and they were able to portray themselves in the best light possible, but these days, cameras are practically omnipresent.

    You cops (the ones that don't like being filmed) out there need to realize that when you make a traffic stop, or arrive on the scene, if there's a crowd gathered, SOMEONE has a camera and is filming whether you like it or not, and there's not thing one you can do about it. Especially if it's a public place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    blaktron (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 5:29pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Im betting this is suddently a problem with HD phone cameras (or just good, at first) that can accurately reproduce identifying evidence about the cop. Before, if a cop did something bad on camera, everyone would say 'not it' and nothing would happen. Now they cant, and it freaks them out. Which it should. A cautious police force is a safe populace.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    blaktron (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 5:33pm


    The real solution to this is to keep everyone filming cops. If the entire crowd whipped out a smart phone and starting recording, you can be damn sure no one would have gotten arrested. Except the suspect if it was warranted. Just a matter of time, and the more these stories get airplay, the more people will want to record a crazy arrest for their 15 minutes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    blaktron (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 5:35pm

    Re: Re: Why are these vermin still employed as police officers?

    Pfft, NWA man!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 5:35pm

    There's a phrase that keeps running through my mind now.

    You can put lipstick on a pig.........

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Jimmy the Geek, Aug 8th, 2011 @ 7:55pm

    Simple fix.

    Let's just pass a law that arresting someone for filming the police is punishable with a million dollar fine and 50 years in prison with no parole.

    It is simple to fix, the fact that we are not doing anything against this blatant slide into a police state says more about us individual than it does about the government.

    We are weak and ineffectual. We are sniveling cowards too afraid to stand up for ourselves. Look at the rest of the world. You kill one person in England without just cause and the people there burn cars and buildings. In Greece millions protest against the government imposing austerity measures on the people, while letting the rich grow ever richer.

    I'm more than a little disgusted about how far we have fallen in the past 50 years. We used to stand up for ourselves. We used to be great.

    I guess it was good while it lasted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2011 @ 8:49pm

    Those photons were clearly evidence!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    The eejit (profile), Aug 9th, 2011 @ 4:30am

    Re: There's a phrase that keeps running through my mind now.

    but you can also put a stick on a pig lip?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Thomas (profile), Aug 9th, 2011 @ 4:36am

    Just shows..

    that cops are corrupt. They do not want to take a chance of anyone filming them while they might be beating the crap out of an innocent and unresisting person. They are just trying to avoid a repeat of Rodney King, but only by keeping anyone from getting a video of it.

    I'd much rather have an encounter with a mugger than a cop, any day. A mugger only wants your phone or wallet, which is easily replaced. A cop, however, can arrest you, toss you in jail (without cause), and cause you tens of thousands in legal fees to get yourself cleared and even then you will still have an arrest record. If you are skilled you have a decent chance of fighting back against a mugger anyway.

    And the fact that they dropped the charges won't clear the fact that the record will still show he has been arrested, which follows you forever.

    Cops have to deal with really nasty characters, so they simply become so much like the criminals it's hard to tell the difference. Prosecutors have become more like Mafia Consigliores(sp?) and just use whatever part of the law they can find to hurt people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2011 @ 6:04am

    A video clip from one perspective is a video clip from one perspective. Often times, the clip doesn't or can't provide the proper context or the fuller picture of what's happening.

    If, for example, someone's watching an incident between a police officer and a citizen. The exchange gets heated and the citizens slugs the cop...now, all of the sudden the camera comes out because who wants to miss this and the video clip shows the cop beating the guy into submission.

    That's the problem.

    A better solution would be, as some have suggested, for everyone to be recording - it would increase the likelihood of getting a fuller perspective of these incidents. Two things makes this impractical, though - first, who's going to coordinate all of this filming? CCTV doesn't work because it's too stationary. Second, do YOU want to be filmed 24/7? Talk about big brother...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Thomas (profile), Aug 9th, 2011 @ 6:09am

    In Massachuetts..

    videotaping a police officer without his/her consent is wiretapping. The Mass Supreme court has said that the law is valid and prosecutions are also valid.

    Strange that a liberal state like Mass helps the cops to avoid prosecution for any wrongdoing. There would never be a Rodney King beatdown in mass because the police would seize all of the video evidence and prosecute the people who did the taping.

    I try to avoid going to Boston and Cambridge - the cops are not to be trusted.

    The cops go out and beat innocent people and arrest people videotaping it happening and then they wonder why people don't trust the police. Why should people trust the police or the prosecutors anyway?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    annoyed, Aug 9th, 2011 @ 6:48am

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse....

    Or wait... that's just for average citizens.... When police break the law, violate your civil rights, it's because they need more training. It's a sick twisted joke.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    ComputerAddict (profile), Aug 9th, 2011 @ 7:10am

    Re: Re:

    "'Media relations training' is not a sufficient consequence."
    Especially when Police chief's can just sign off on the training saying they did it. It happened in the town I went to college where the Police chief was falsifying papers saying his officers were keeping up with continuing ed / cpr / etc. when really they were not. When confronted he said "They had better things to be doing than re-training"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    ComputerAddict (profile), Aug 9th, 2011 @ 7:34am

    follow in San Jose's Footsteps

    In San Jose california cops have a small camera on their shoulder as part of their uniform. They are trained "Lights on, Camera On" so that as soon as a persuit begins it is caught on camera. If there are 4 officers on scene, there are 4 sets of footage. If something arises they can go back and check the footage, if one of the officers fails to download his footage then there should be sanctions in place for that. (In San Jose there are no sanctions for not filming as they are still in a "trial")


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    twitchTwitch (profile), Aug 9th, 2011 @ 9:58am

    Re: Re: Obstruction?

    sorry but - third time in an hour - I must.. Ihate it but I must.

    your - my what?
    you're - you are standing on my cat.

    and there is where and not theirs yet they're all still mildly dumbfounded

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    PrometheeFeu (profile), Aug 9th, 2011 @ 12:22pm

    Media-relations training? OK. As long as it is in jail for unlawful imprisonment. This is sick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2011 @ 12:28pm

    Re: In Massachuetts..

    Boston PD ... historically the 2nd most corrupt PD in America ... right after Chicago. Good place to avoid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2011 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    See that is just it, your point is 180 degrees incorrect. The video usually does work out in the police’s favor if they are doing their jobs properly. Face it most police actions are appropriate, we the public are a bunch of hyena’s.

    The lack of video only protects the bad cops.

    This stupidity makes the cops look bad and makes it so we the people, can not trust them. Every cop should have a camera as part of their equipment as a matter of course, just put a small one on his / her shoulder next to the microphone, and we eliminate all this “he said / she said” nonsense. And we can see exactly how drunk the drunk driver who refuses the breathalyzer. For the life of me I do not get why the departments fight video, their job is to get the objective truth, they should be embracing this stuff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    known coward, Aug 9th, 2011 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    bah that should have been from me about the cops,

    damm you fat fingers from missing the name field, damm you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Another Anonymous Joe, Aug 9th, 2011 @ 6:14pm

    Re: Re: Obstruction?

    Well said! How does that saying go? You know, the one those in law enforcement love to use? If you're not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to fear. This would seem this runs both ways.

    What really pisses me off is how fascist this comes off as. Those in positions of power should never abuse their authority, especially when they live in a country where freedom is supposedly held as your most sacred belief. How many people have died protecting our way of life? How many more will be expected to lay down their lives? It truly angers me to see the people I used to look up to piss on their memory this way.

    No wonder the public is losing faith in those whom are, at least to some extent, expected to uphold such ideals for the common good. Instead they trash them with what I consider to be shameful abhorrent behavior. Sigh... some days it really does feel as if we're marching headlong into the world depicted by "V for Vendetta" and "1984".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Hide this ad »
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Chat
Hide this ad »
Recent Stories
Advertisement - Amazon Prime Music
Hide this ad »


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.