If You're Going To Illegally Seize Citizens' Cell Phones, At Least Make Sure You're Grabbing The Right Ones

from the all-officers-involved-are-ordered-to-attend-'Remedial-Rights-Infringement dept

When cops behave badly, many suddenly develop an acute case of unconstitutional stage fright, often resulting in the immediate confiscation of any cameras/cell phones in the vicinity. If it's going to come down to "our word against yours," it helps immensely to have any contradictory "words" spirited away by Narrative Control, a branch of law enforcement that handles all cop "publicity rights," as well as providing new interpretations and reimaginings of existing statutes.

Sometimes it works. The offending footage vanishes into the ether, resulting in a narrative standoff between the Upstanding (if Overenthusiastic) Officer of the Law and the Obviously Crazy and Dangerous Person Who Should Really Be Doing a Little Hard Time.

Other times, the smash-and-grab fails, and the citizens retain their footage, providing a more rounded narration that often reverses the roles. (Upstanding [if Overenthusiastic] Citizen v. Obviously Crazy and Dangerous Law Enforcement Officer Who Really Shouldn't be Allowed to Abuse Anything Other Than a Demeaning Desk Job.)

Sometimes, though, the (attempted) confiscation of offending footage results in a surprising amount of schadenfreude. These moments occur altogether too infrequently, but when they do, a good time is had by all not attempting to confiscate damning footage.

First off, via Photography is not a Crime, comes the brief but surprisingly satisfying story of bullying tactics backfiring.

New York City police officers arrested a woman who was video recording them from a public sidewalk as they conducted some type of “vehicle safety checkpoint.”

The officers apparently stole a memory card from a camera, which turned out to be the wrong one, allowing us to view the video.

In the Youtube description, under the headline, “You stole the wrong SD card,” Christina Gonzalez said her boyfriend was also arrested.

"We were arrested while filming an NYPD checkpoint on a bridge between a soon to be gentrified Bronx and a quickly gentrifying Harlem. We were charged with OGA, DisCon, and resisting arrest. I was holding a bag of yarn in one hand and a canvas in the other. My partner had food in his hands when he was tackled. Even though their violent actions were unjust, we did not resist. Simultaneous with our “arrests”, the checkpoint was closed down.

We were held for 25 hours."

If you'll notice, both principals were charged with OGA (Obstructing Governmental Administration), in addition to the usual cop standbys, disorderly conduct and (of course) resisting arrest. The thing is, they weren't obstructing anything, at least not according to the NYPD's own Patrol Guide.

a. A person remaining in the vicinity of a stop or arrest shall not be subject to arrest for Obstructing Governmental Administration (Penal Law, Section 195.05) unless the officer has probable cause to believe the person or persons are obstructing governmental administration.

b. None of the following constitutes probable cause for arrest or detention of an onlooker unless the safety of officers or other persons is directly endangered or the officer reasonably believes they are endangered or the law is otherwise violated:

(1) Speech alone, even though crude and vulgar
(2) Requesting and making notes of shield numbers or names of officers
(3) Taking photographs, videotapes or tape recordings
(4) Remaining in the vicinity of the stop or arrest
Even if they were doing all of the above, it still wouldn't add up to OGA. So, that's a BS charge, as is the "resisting arrest," but the latter seems to be tacked on to any arrest that occurs without any real crime being committed. It's an offshoot of "contempt of cop, " which basically means that not immediately shutting up and doing what you're told is the same as resisting arrest.

Among all the fake crimes, a real crime did take place -- an NYPD officer (allegedly) stole a memory card, most likely in hopes of "detaining" the offending footage permanently. But he grabbed the wrong one and now the actions of these officers is on public display and spreading around the web.

That's illegal seizure FAIL #1. The second story comes courtesy of a lawsuit filed against the Galveston (Texas) police department. It starts out ordinarily enough. (Sidebar: there's something horribly wrong with the system if I can state something is "ordinary" and have it contain the following events.)
Jarrett Anthony Neu sued Galveston in Federal Court.

Neu claims that Galveston police arrested him at 4:45 p.m. on March 11, without a warrant, at a Galveston apartment complex. He claims they lied about it in the police report. He claims they subjected him not only to threats, intimidation, insult and humiliation, but severe and cruel physical abuse and punishment by both physical beating and the repeated unnecessary and unwarranted deployment of a less-than-lethal Taser weapon on plaintiff. Plaintiff, who suffers from a pre-existing cardiac ailment, suffered permanent and debilitating injuries as well as permanent disfigurement and scarring at the hands of these police officers.
Someone should get rid of that "less-than-lethal" modifier attached to "Taser." It's been proven multiple times that it can be lethal, if deployed against a person with the "right" ailments or simply deployed repeatedly until the arrestee has sufficiently "stopped resisting." (In these cases, the word "resisting" is often interchangeable with the word "breathing.")

At some point during this "exchange of viewpoints" (or whatever the correct PD terminology is), the police noticed an impartial observer was recording the whole thing for posterity. So, they made the usual move to responsibly collect all evidence, especially the damning kind.
During this police administered beating, officers realized that a citizen was filming the beating via cell phone and the officers involved without a legal reason seized (the wrong) cell phone.
E for effort, guys. You almost had it. And without a warrant! Now, the Galveston PD has a cell phone, but the plaintiff's lawyer has the cell phone.
Counsel for plaintiff has the cell phone that recorded the beating.
It would be nice to think the Galveston PD is kicking themselves for blowing a simple, illegal seizure of someone's phone, but if the plaintiff's story is anything to go by, they're probably kicking someone else.

Filed Under: cell phones, police, seizure


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2013 @ 9:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    They had all these cops in the same area and not one of them had a close up camera of their own (ie: a car cam) recording this whole event? Yet they thought they could get away with taking someone elses camera unlawfully? If they really needed footage they should have had their own cameras recording the whole thing. Before taking anyone elses footage they had better make sure they have footage and enough evidence to prove their innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. It is their responsibility. They failed here. There is no good reason they could not have had their own cameras, after all, they record us and provide footage when it's to their advantage. They wrongfully took someone elses footage and failed to provide the necessary evidence to absolve them of guilt. I want murder convictions. It should be an automatic. No legal technicality can change the injustice it would be not to sentence them to murder.

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