Officers Cite Nonexistent Law In Attempt To Prevent Citizen From Filming Them During A Traffic Stop
from the cf:-some-shit-we-made-up-at-that-other-stop dept
Fortunately for law enforcement officers (but not so much for lowly citizens), courts have routinely affirmed that officers don't need to know the laws they're enforcing to stay in the law enforcement business. No one expects cops to be legal scholars, but the least they could do is get a second opinion when they're faced with a situation where applicable laws may -- or just as frequently, may not -- exist.
We've seen nonexistent laws abused before. Most of the time, a perceived moving violation acts as the groundwork for a fishing expedition. This is fine, sayeth the courts. Other times, nonexistent laws are cited to shut down photographers or harass people otherwise minding their own business.
Texas law enforcement officers are notorious for this. They frequently -- and possibly willfully in some cases -- misread the state's failure to identify statute as meaning they're allowed to demand identification from anyone at any time. They could not possibly be more wrong.
The perfect storm of law enforcement beclownery occurs when they interact with someone who actually knows the law. The bluffing commences in a real-time display of "our word against yours," with officers assisting each other in collective ignorance because, if might makes right, then a united citation of nonexistent statutes by armed men is the rightest thing of all.
Too bad these officers pulled over a defense lawyer. In the officers' defense, they couldn't have possibly known this fact ahead of time. (h/t Adam Steinbaugh)
A Wilmington police sergeant is shown on video instructing a citizen who was pulled over for a traffic stop that he is not allowed to record the interaction due to a new state law prohibiting the recording of police interactions.
Shortly after that, a New Hanover County Sheriff's deputy agrees with the officer that there is a new state law. There is no such law in North Carolina.
The citizen was defense attorney Jesse Bright, who drives for Uber in his spare time. The cops arrested his passenger, then cited a nonexistent law in hopes of preventing him from recording the encounter.
The entire stop lasted more than 20 minutes, culminating in a drug dog sniff of the vehicle (in which the drug dog may or may not have alerted -- officers refused to tell Bright what this dog's alert looked like). The dog apparently gave the officers permission to search Bright's car. Nothing illegal was found. And the only people being evasive or disingenuous were the police officers, who answered Bright's direct questions vaguely or not at all.
Fortunately for Bright -- who will presumably be filing a civil rights lawsuit -- the entire dog-and-jackass show was recorded on his camera. Sure, some of the responding officers were wearing body cams, but it usually takes litigation (or the threat thereof) to liberate this footage. And, in many cases, what's turned over is incomplete, either due to redaction or mysteriously-malfunctioning/unactivated recording devices.
There are two raw recordings at WECT's site. The first is the Q&A session in which Bright is told he's violating a nonexistent recording law. The second shows the K-9 sniff and subsequent vehicle search.
On the bright side, the officers' employer isn't defending their actions.
Chief Ralph Evangelous issued the following statement Wednesday in response to the videos:
“Taking photographs and videos of people that are in plain sight including the police is your legal right. As a matter of fact we invite citizens to do so when they believe it is necessary. We believe that public videos help to protect the police as well as our citizens and provide critical information during police and citizen interaction.”
The WPD stated that each officer will be given this statement to read as well.
A sheriff's deputy was also on hand for the mini-debacle, but he has already been cleared by his agency. However, the sheriff's department also made it clear there is no law against recording officers.
Sheriff McMahon has viewed the Uber driver’s video and believes it is clear that Officers were incorrect in stating that it was illegal to record the encounter. Not only does the Sheriff agree that it is legal to record encounters, he invites citizens to do so. As a result, the Deputy involved has been counseled.
Additionally, in keeping with Sheriff McMahon’s practice of openness and transparency with the citizens that we serve, he has instructed his Staff to ensure that each Deputy has been provided with information about the citizen’s right to record encounters with law enforcement officers.
But for video, as they say. Bright's video of the encounter wasn't held up by red tape, angry union officials, poorly-written public records laws, department stonewalling or a plain old [FILE NOT FOUND] error. His was self-released expeditiously, providing an indisputable account of the events. This possibly explains the lack of law enforcement dissembling or statements insisting everyone should just wait until all the [favorable] facts are in.