The activities of the police, like those of other public officials, are subject to public scrutiny...Videotaping is a legitimate means of gathering information for public dissemination and can often provide cogent evidence, as it did in this case.
Does anyone have any comments or suggestions on citizens taking pictures of police officers or videotaping the cops?
Until I can add my own personal thoughts on the subject at a later time, I'll leave you with some stories on how police officers are abusing their powers by stealing and destroying not only personal property, but destroying evidence.
If you do video tape cops, I will say the best photographer is the unseen photographer. Stay at a distance where not to be seen and use that zoom, that's what it's there for!
Cops have to pay $41k for stopping man from videoing them
August 26, 2005 - Last month a federal judge awarded $35,000 in compensatory and $6000 in punitive damages to a man state troopers arrested for video taping them.
This seems like an important decision because it makes it clear that citizens are free to video law enforcement in action.
The ruling finds violations of the plaintiff's first and fourth amendment rights. It states "The activities of the police, like those of other public officials, are subject to public scrutiny...Videotaping is a legitimate means of gathering information for public dissemination and can often provide cogent evidence, as it did in this case. In sum, there can be no doubt that the free speech clause of the Constitution protected Robinson as he videotaped the defendants on October 23, 2002....Moreover, to the extent that the troopers were restraining Robinson from making any future videotapes and from publicizing or publishing what he had filmed, the defendants' conduct clearly amounted to an unlawful prior restraint upon his protected speech....We find that defendants are liable under § 1983 for violating Robinson's Fourth Amendment right to be protected from an unlawful seizure..."
06/10/2005- Hudson Ohio - Police officer David Devore just didn't appreciate John Bell III's "whimsical sense of humor."
The Hudson police officer is facing a lawsuit from an improper traffic stop that was caught on tape.
When Bell took digital pictures on Feb. 6 of Devore's police cruiser stuck in the mud and being towed out of a ditch after an errant U-turn, Devore got angry.
Dashboard cameras show the confrontation between Devore and Bell.
"Camera and film now. I'm not going to ask you again. I'll give you the count of three or I can make your life a living hell. You made the decision, I'll give you that choice," Devore said on tape.
He took the memory card from Bell's digital camera and erased the images.
The officer was suspended for erasing the images.
Now the two are headed for court, with Bell suing Devore and the city for more than $25,000 in punitive damages, claiming his civil rights were violated because he was stopped without probable cause, wrongfully detained, verbally abused and deprived of his property.
Why did Bell, 38, take the pictures?
"His motivation was his whimsical sense of humor," attorney Dean Hoover said.
Devore, who was suspended for one day for his conduct, claimed in his recounting of the incident that Bell had called Devore a "stupid fucker" as he was taking the pictures.
Jody Roberts, communications manager, said the city and Devore agreed that he did not handle the situation properly. But Roberts said Bell's civil rights were not violated.
Bell asked for $500,000 and new police department procedures, including psychological testing of officers, to settle the complaint. The city offered $1,000.
Devore served a one-day suspension without pay on Feb. 15. He also received counseling and was told his future traffic stops would be monitored.
"His behavior was outrageous," Hoover said of Devore. "A day off without pay was a rap on the wrist."
05/21/05 - Houston Texas - Two Houston police officers have been fired after a four-month investigation into allegations that they downloaded nude photographs of a suspected drunken driver from her camera phone.
Police Officers Christopher Green and George Miller were indefinitely suspended late last week. Indefinite suspension is tantamount to firing at the Houston Police Department.
The firings could affect dozens of drunken-driving cases awaiting court dates. Green and Miller were assigned to the department's drunken-driving task force.
It is not clear whether they had appealed their termination to the city Civil Service Commission. The officers' union attorney didn't immediately return a call Thursday.
The firings stemmed from an incident in November when they arrested a college student on a charge of driving while intoxicated.
According to a search warrant for Green's home, he transferred nude photos of the woman from her cellular phone to his personal digital assistant.
The warrant also alleged that Miller left the woman a voice-mail message suggesting that they meet at an Italian cafe.
Ned Gill, who is defending the woman against the DWI charge has said he has no idea why his client, a Houston Community College student, had nude photos of herself on her cell phone, or why the officers examined the phone.
The woman, a native of China, is in the United States on a student visa and speaks little English, Gill said.
Marc Brown, head of the District Attorney's Office's misdemeanor division, said he does not think criminal charges will be filed against Green and Miller, but added that he is not involved in that decision. Assistant District Attorney Edward Porter is leading the criminal investigation and could not be reached for comment.
Several Houston defense attorneys with clients arrested by Miller and Green on DWI charges have indicated they plan to use the camera-phone incident to challenge the officers' credibility.
Some defense attorneys think the incident could be interpreted as a violation of the state computer law. That law states that, "a person commits an offense if the person knowingly accesses a computer, computer network or computer system without the effective consent of the owner."
Police arrested three photographers who were covering a white supremacist demonstration and counter-demonstration in Toledo, Ohio, on Saturday.
The photographers say they were arrested without warning, held for several hours along with the handful of demonstrators who were arrested, charged and released. One of the photographers says when police returned his camera, the memory card had been either damaged or erased and he lost all his images.
The three photographers arrested were Jeffrey Sauger, a freelancer from Michigan working for the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), Jim West, a freelancer from Michigan working for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Jeffrey Willis, a graphic designer and photographer at The Toledo Journal, a local African-American newspaper.
Sauger was charged with criminal trespass, West with failure to disperse, and Willis with disorderly conduct, the photographers say. A Toledo Police Department spokesperson says authorities instructed journalists not to stray from a particular area, and police arrested photographers who did.
Police presence was high at the rally, which drew about 60 neo-Nazis and about 200 counter-protesters to the steps of a government building in Toledo, according to an Associated Press report.
Nerves were especially tense since the last time the National Socialist Movement attempted to hold a rally in Toledo, in October, the scene erupted into a riot.
This time, the demonstrations were peaceful, say the photographers. Police on horseback attempted to keep the two groups of demonstrators confined to different areas, and also had an area set up for news media.
"The police started pretty aggressively riding their horses up and down in front of the protesters," West says, adding that the crowd was noisy and waving signs to protest the Nazis. "Some of the horses were really pretty spooked by it."
Willis was the first photographer arrested, at about 1:30 p.m.
He was standing next to another reporter in the protest area when a police officer asked him to come over. "I thought he was going to ask me to do something like take a picture for him," Willis says. The next thing he knew, he was being led away under arrest.
Willis says he obtained the press credential police handed out to journalists covering the rally, and spent part of the rally in the media area and part of it in the area with the demonstrators.
Willis, who has worked for the Journal for three years and covered the rioting in October, says he's never been arrested before. Willis is black; the other two arrested photographers are white.
Police took Willis's possessions after he was arrested, and handed them back when he was released. But when he tried to view the images on his camera, a Nikon D70S, he got an error message. Willis says police wrapped his camera in a wet coat, which may have damaged the memory card. He still has hope that the images may be recoverable, but as of Monday the card still wasn't working. "I do know that there were photos on there before," he says.
A short time after Willis's arrest, police arrested West in about the same area.
West, who did not have a press pass for the event, was near the police barricade shooting pictures of a horse that was acting out of line, he says. He was arrested by an officer who "didn't say a word, just grabbed me," West says.
West says he has covered rallies and labor disputes before and has never been arrested for anything similar.
"The media is almost always given just a little more leeway than the general public," he says. "To get the good picture, sometimes you need to push the envelope. I didn't really do that in this situation. I didn't need to."
Sauger was arrested in the media area at about 3 p.m., about ten minutes after the Nazis began speaking. Sauger says he didn't get a media pass because officials told him he was too late for anyone to issue him one, but decided to shoot in the media area anyway since none of the officers he spoke to seemed to mind.
While he was lining up a shot, a plainclothes police officer tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to come with him, Sauger says. Officers handcuffed him and charged him with trespass for being in the media area without a proper credential.
"He got there too late to get the rinky-dink local press credential they give out and was told by several people he could go ahead and work," says Sauger's editor, EPA staff photographer Tannen Maury in Chicago. "EPA's position on this is we're going to back him up on this as far as we can," including paying Sauger a day rate for traveling to his court appearance, Maury says.
It was Sauger's first assignment for EPA. He's been a news photographer since 1989 and traveled to Iraq in 2003.
All three photographers were released within a few hours and asked to come back Monday for a court appearance. Sauger and West pleaded not guilty; Willis says his lawyer would try to set a different court date.
The photographers say they are amazed that they got arrested, and question the tactics police used.
"They were walking horses through the crowd and just knocking people around with their horses," says Sauger. "This guy rode his horse's throat right up on my head."
Toledo police spokesperson Cap. Diana Ruiz-Krause says she was at the scene Saturday and "The horses looked very much under control."
Ruiz-Krause says police recommended that journalists stay within the media observation areas, and her understanding is that the photographers who were arrested crossed a line drawn by the police. "I could see several media people in the general viewing area who didn't get arrested," she says.
Purpose of this Manual This manual is meant to provide a basic overview of proven tactics for video taping police at demonstrations. This information is presented with the hope of having as many people as possible attending these demonstrations carrying video cameras and having knowledge of how to use them effectively. It is hoped that you the reader will become one of these people.
Why Videotape Police Video cameras are, if properly employed, one of the most effective tools for documenting what occurs and containing excesses by the police.
The majority of arrests are usually a form of control and harassment. During a typical demonstration they are usually for trivial things like "jaywalking or "offensive littering" (i.e. throwing a cigarette butt down in the street.) Other times, there may be blatantly over the top behaviors, even involving the use of chemical agents and projectile weapons, or circling hundreds of demonstrators followed by mass arrests. In any case, letting the police know that there's a record being made and that they are accountable is one of the best ways for law-abiding citizens to control and prevent these harassing tactics.
Assembling a Team for Videotaping Police Like a person involved in any sort of direct action, the person videotaping may utilize and might require support. Support positions may include the following:
- Runner. It is this person's responsibility to take any tape the person with the video camera makes of the police activity and to get that tape out of the area as quickly as possible. - Buddy. Also known as "eyes." This person keeps an eye of what's going on as the person with the video camera photographs the action. This person is watchful for: a) Other incidents; b) Any police officer or officers approaching the video camera operator. - Reporter. This person can provide descriptions of what occurred for later broadcast or legal records. This person can also interview witnesses or victims of police misconduct.
It is also a good idea if several people with video cameras work together. One or more can go in close and others can hang back. By recording what is happening to the person going in close, the people on the periphery provide an increased measure of safety. Alternatively, people with cameras may stand on opposite sides of an incident. In this way they both monitor each other and make a more complete record of what is occurring.
What to Videotape during a Demonstration a) Using Videocameras to Prevent Arrests and Beatings
What is important to videotape depends a lot upon what occurs. Sometimes cops seem to be trying to fill a minimum quota for numbers of arrests. Then you'll see them arrest people for stupid things like "jaywalking," "offensive littering" (i.e. discarding a cigarette butt,) or simply because someone is standing on the wrong side of a line. Let's face it, mass demonstrations are big overtime bucks for cops. For example during the 2001 Seattle WTO Anniversary demonstration, cops were received about a quarter million dollars to corral a couple of hundred demonstrations. To justify this continued spending, you need results, hence cops create arrests.
In these cases it's a good idea to be proactive. Whenever you see a cop, or especially several cops moving to some demonstrators your video camera should be on. If it's night and you've got a light on your camera, turn that on too. If cops are aware they are being recorded, this can prevent many arrests.
To anticipate what the police are doing, you'll want to pay attention to them, and begin to notice the nuances of what they're doing. If several of them start marching in a single direction, if they change to a "harder" riot uniform, those are indications that something is going to occur. Your camera should be rolling.
A good strategy is to bring more tape and batteries than you anticipate that you'll need. When police do something it happens quickly. It's recommended that you have your camera running anytime you even suspect that something might be about to occur. Many of the videotapes that are produced during demonstrations only capture what's going on after something takes place. It takes awhile for a video camera to power up and then begin to run tape. If you start rolling tape when the incident is about to start, you're probably going to miss a lot. Tape is inexpensive. Batteries are rechargeable. If you have a choice, use them and edit down.
b) Videotaping when the Police do Decide to Arrest or Abuse Someone
One choice to make is how much of a participant you are willing to be while videotaping. Being as professional and as neutral as possible will maximize your credibility, both in the field, and when appearing in court later. If you're there with a fist in one hand, your camera in another and a shirt that says "fuck the cops", and if your audio tracks got you saying chants, good luck on getting a jury to believe your tape's an objective record.
It is okay, and can be important to let the police know you are videotaping them while they are making an arrest. While there are some cops who join the force for altruistic reasons and are relatively decent people, there are some that seem to enjoy hurting people. Given that a study by the New England Journal of Medicine showed a substantial number are spousal abusers, this should not be a complete surprise. Tactics observed in past demonstrations included police tossing a demonstrator between them to make it look as if the person was resisting arrest. Police also circle around people so that what they are doing to them cannot be seen.
This is precisely why it is important to videotape every arrest and every potential arrest that takes place. The police hate to be seen doing these things and video cameras are simply the best tool for exposing and controlling this behavior. If a cop knows that they are being videotaped when an arrest is going down, the arrest is likely to be a lot gentler. This is especially true if the cop or cops believe that this tape is going to be broadcast somewhere. Most of the local cops have families who live in the area. They don't want their parents, children or spouses to see them behaving in a brutal manner. Asking the arresting officers questions such as their names, badge numbers, supervising officer, and the charge can let the police know they're being watched and get information at the same time. The more accountable the police officer feels that they are, the better the chance that they're liable to behave during an arrest.
If you do tape a cop being particularly brutal, try keeping it on your local cable access channel for the next six months, making sure the officer's name gets mentioned a lot. This can do lot to change behavior.
When Cops Cluster Around their Victim One of the most Common techniques cops use when they're arresting someone or using excessive force is to circle around their victim or victims so that they can't be seen. There are several techniques for penetrating the cops when they go into a circle during an arrest. One is to simply get in as close as you can. Since cops have been known to attack cameras with their batons, this is where older or less expensive cameras are recommended. It is a really good idea in this situation to have someone holding the cameraperson's back and ready to yank him or her out.
The other strategy when the cops circle around someone they are arresting is to hold the videocamera above your head and point down. This is where the flip-out view screens on some of the newer cameras can be most effective. A good image stabilizer is helpful too. If your camera lacks one of these side screens the best technique has proven to be putting your lens as wide as it can go and simply pointing the lens at the action while holding the camera over your head.
What's Useful to get on Videotape In these sorts of situations most attorneys find it useful to show the physical relationships between the actors. The most typical charges at demonstrations revolve around things like people crossing a line on the street or standing on the curb instead of the sidewalk. Many an arrest charge has been dismissed simply because it's been shown a person was not standing where the officer said they were. If you begin videotaping an incident, it's a good idea to leave the camera running until the incident is over. Many prosecutors try to use the gaps in a videotape to attack it.
The most basic technique for good pictures is to try to brace yourself against something so that your camera doesn't shake. Again, the image stabilizer function on your camera can help here, but it's still limited in terms of how much it can correct. Since you're trying to cover a lot of the action, leaving your camera in wide angle is recommended.
If you're trying to make a record it's a good idea to get the time and location. Since it's difficult to get details such as street signs, or badge numbers when you're on the fly, it's often better to read these into your microphone.
Let me repeat that, read the time and location constantly into the microphone of your camera, particularly at the beginning or ending of a shot.
If you're making a record of an extended event it's a good idea to record some tape every five minutes or so. You can make notes on such things as the demeanor of the crowd, numbers of people present, number of police present, if they are wearing hard or soft uniforms, number of weapons that they are carrying, their demeanor, etc. Remember that the police have people in their employ designated to capture what demonstrators are doing, so your main job is to keep an eye on the police.
Oh, in case I forgot, it's also a really good idea at the beginning or end of each shot to read out the location, time and date.
It's always a good idea to interview witnesses.
The basic technique for friendly is to start with a very open ended question. This can be something like: "What happened?" "Can you describe it?"
From there you can start going into specifics. Things like: "what happened next?" How did folks react? Did you see anyone get hurt? How?" etc. The general approach if you've got a coherent friendly witness is to start broad and get narrower and more specific. If anything's unclear during the interview, it will be unclear to the audience. Ask them to explain.
If you're witness may be a little frazzled, you might start with a slightly leading question: "What did the cops just do?" "So you were just tear gassed, how'd it happen?" are good examples of this.
If you've got a witness who's completely frazzled, you might want to cut your losses, if they're taking too much time. It's always a balancing act between what your subject's doing and what else is going on. Hence if you see others getting the same interview, it may not be the best use of your talents to cluster in and get the same interview instead, focus on what else is happening or is likely to happen. Ideally videographers share their footage.
It's a good idea to get a contact for the witness. If you're not someone who's known to them, witnesses may be reluctant to give their information, even their names. It's understandable. One thing that's worked is to have a piece of paper that they can mail later to either your organization, or the legal support group - again a good idea for people to work together.
One good location to do interviews is around where the medics are working. It's good to have a record of people when their injuries are fresh, and to make visual documentation of them. Again, though there's a balancing act here, and you don't want to interfere with someone who's just been injured. Evaluate the situation, take lots of deep breaths (barring chemical agents) and use common sense.
Another good thing is to have folks outside the jails t at the end of an action to talk to releasees about any irregularities or abuses that may have occurred. If they're too frazzled see the above about getting contact information.
Witnessing Less Lethal Weapons and Other uses of Force
The Seattle WTO Ministerial seems to have served as a military trade show for the merchants of less lethal technology. They've become so omnipresent that police spraying a few hundred people with pepper spray can be seen as a "restrained use" even by the alternative (as opposed to corporate) media.
The important thing to remember is that these weapons all have narrow parameters around which they are designed to be used, almost none of which are possible in a demonstration.
Projectile weapons ('rubber bullets,' 'bean bags,' 'dowels' etc.) should be fired at certain distances. Even if you missed an incident on videotape you should read into your video camera a record of how far the weapon was fired from before it struck someone. Many of these weapons are meant to be skip-fired, that is not fired directly at people, but ricocheted, off the ground. Note if a weapon is fired directly at someone. There are limited areas of the body where someone may be struck safely with these weapons. Generally these are the same areas that it's okay to spank a child, the meaty areas, the thighs and buttocks, period. Under almost no circumstance should someone be struck with these weapons in the head, or remotely near any other vital organ. Of course these are all violated routinely. Document them. Get witnesses. Get officer's name, or available of identification (if none visible, get that.) Oh and record the time,date, location, and any witness statements about what lead up to the attack. See above for getting contact info.
Chemical Agents include CS or 'tear gas' (used on the Viet Cong by our government) and OC or 'pepper spray.' There are strict rules about the distance that these can be used from, and the length of exposure that a victim can receive. Note these. These weapons should only be used in areas where there is free flowing air. If it's a confined place (car, phone booth, doorway, etc), the person's being exposed to more than even the manufacturer deems safe. Make a record of this as above. Time, location, contacts, etc. Also note if the person receives treatment. These are required by the manufacturers. Interference by cops with medics, or ohers administering the aid that the cops should is something to document.
More Basic Tips
It's crucial to have several videotapes. If you videotape an incident, a runner can get it out of the area and you can continue videotaping. If the cops start a circling action and look like they're ready to start making arrests, you can get your videotape out of the area and keep taping. It's nerve-wracking to have to decide if you want to stay in an area and get what's happening, or get out and save the tape you already shot. It's better to prevent yourself from being in that situation.
It's also good to carry extra batteries. Typically the worst acts of police misconduct come at the end of a day, particularly when police are tired. It's also when videographers tend to run out of power for their camcorders. Some batteries go as long as 15 hours (at least according to their manufacturers) on a single charge. If you're going to be doing this a while, batteries are a good investment. They're also where a lot of the mark up is so you can barter with a sales person around this, or check for opened box ones.
If you're working with an attorney, labeling a tape "attorney work product, privileged and confidential," makes it a little bit harder for the cops to use it without your permission. This depends a lot on jurisdiction and is stronger in some areas than others. You may have more rights a s credentialed press.
Choice of video camera is also something to consider. Video cameras run the gamut from relatively inexpensive ones costing three hundred dollars or less, to ones that range into the tens of thousands of dollars.
One of the first criteria to consider if you're going to be getting close to the cops is what you can afford to lose. Unfortunately camera shy cops do occasionally try to break video cameras. Thus, you may wish to simply purchase a camera that won't leave you bankrupt if it's injured or destroyed. Also the camera's that give you the best image on badly lit streets aren't often the same ones that get you a clean image of a well-lit interview subject.
Selection of Format if you are getting a Video Camera
Video cameras come in a variety of tape formats.
Low End Analog
These are the most basic formats, 8mm, VHS-C and VHS. Of the relatively inexpensive camcorders on the market, my personal bias is to eight millimeter over the slightly more convenient VHS-C camcorders, because you get more tape for your money, slightly better resolution (roughly 240 lines of resolution vs. roughly 280 lines) and the tapes hold up better over repeated use. 8mm gives you a 2 hour tape that can run anywhere from $2-$8 depending on vendor, and quality of tape. VHS-C gives you a half hour of tape for the same amount of money and usually records in mono. The one advantage of VHS-C is that it can play in a VHS VCR - 8mm requires you to use your camera for playback, though it's relatively easy to copy to a VHS or other format tape. Reliable no-nonsense 8mm cameras are super cheap with the influx of digital. $200 is not unheard of. The draw back to the influx of digital is that the lower end cameras are not made with as many features as they once were. Few, for example, have microphone inputs, which are crucial if you'll be using your camera to record speakers.
High End Analog
Other formats will improve your picture markedly and are worth considering if you are looking at putting your work on the media. Hi-8, and the somewhat rarer SVHS will give you about 50% more resolution (roughly 400 lines of resolution) than 8mm or VHS. You'll be looking at $300 for the most basic model, though you can occasionally find them for less as the newer digital cameras become more commonplace. Again, there are problems with less available features on the camera as digital becomes more pervasive. There are lack of microphone inputs on most current models. Others don't have an output that allows the camera to playback and export the tape at full resolution. The tapes run considerably less money (about half the cost per minute) of the digital, so can make good, relatively high resolution "thrash" or secondary cameras.
Entry Level Digital
Digital 8 or Mini DV will double the resolution of an 8mm or VHS tape (500 lines of resolution), but the starting point is $500. Most of these cameras have firewire or similar digital input/output that enables you to copy either to a computer or other digital video w/o loss of image quality, much like copying a file onto a computer disc. If you do purchase a digital it's recommended that you make sure your camera has one of these firewire inputs. This, and and actual firewire cable can enable you to trade and copy footage in the field with another videographer with no loss of image quality whatsoever. The popular format Digital 8 was created out of the older 8mm technologies. These cameras can playback older 8mm and hi-8 tapes. It generally costs less to run these cameras - tapes cost less - and you tend to get more features for your money. They have several drawbacks. The resolution isn't quite as clean as Mini-DV, the cameras are not as ruggedly built, and you have to use your camera for all tape playback, as dedicated Digital 8 decks don't exist. These do make okay street cameras, and give you the option of doing digital exports of older 8mm and hi-8 video. However if this is you're first camera and you're in this price range, you're probably better off looking at a DV format camera.
Mini DV is slightly higher resolution though you're often looking at about $10 or more for a one-hour tape, though they can go as long as $4. Older Mini-DV cameras frequently require more light than the other cameras, so can often produce beautiful video with enough light but can get quite grainy without it, in most of the newer ones this problem seems to have been defeated. This is especially true of the higher end cameras with three CCD's (chips.) You'll want to pay attention to the lux rating if you're doing a lot of night shooting - typically you'd want 1 lux for this type of work (as the numbers for lux get bigger you're needing more light). The optical zoom (the part that comes from a lens, not through electronics) on older Mini DV is also typically less than on other cameras, though this seems like it's being recitifed in the newer ones.
Other Features on Videocameras
There are features to consider which will improve your video, though they all add a little to the cost.
- Image stabilization is a feature that eliminates shaking and will improve your picture. These are invaluable when you're in a jostling crowd, or moving around police who are trying to block you. It can add about a hundred dollars to the price, but is becoming ever-more common. There are several types of image stabilizers; the worst of these digitally crops your image and losses about 35% of your resolution. The best of these is optical image stabilizer. Also acceptable is the chip based stabilizer or steady-shot, which has minimal degradation of image.
-Batteries. The industry is moving from the older Ni-cads to longer running Lithium-ion batteries. For Ni-cads, there are "no-memory" batteries that can give you a much longer running time, though still not as high as the Lithium-ions. With any of these, whatever your advertiser or sales person tells you, it's a good idea to drain them of all power at least once a month, and then give them a full recharge. Failure to do this will cause your battery to develop a diminished charge. It's an excellent idea to have more than one battery.
- A flip out view screen can be extremely helpful in a fast moving street scene. Cops will circle around a demonstrator they're arresting or beating, push back onlookers till you're only able to see a crowd of cops etc. In these cases having a flip screen can let you hold a camera up in the air and look down, or hold it between a cops legs all while having a reasonable idea of what you're videotaping. This can also be helpful in a situation where a spokesperson is giving a conference and is being circled by reporters.
-A small microphone will also improve your sound quality. Sound is one of the weakest components of most non-professional videos. Choice of microphone depends a lot upon whether you will be video taping with a reporter. If you have a reporter, a simple stick microphone will work best. If there is no reporter, a zoom microphone may be best to capture the action. Generally it's a good idea to try to find a mike from the same manufacturer as the camera to limit compatibility problems.
- A small light is good for night shooting when much of the worst of police behavior occurs, though budget conscious activists have accomplished the same thing with duct tape and a small flashlight. Some of the newer Sony cameras have an infrared device built into them that can actually record a decent image with no light for about twenty feet, and can be extended beyond that with attachments.
- Tripods can provide a more stable picture. Obviously, the larger ones can slow down your speed, though work great for videotaping staged events. Some folks have been known to use single legged unipods.
The Advantages of Looking Professional
Another school of thought is that the more professional you look, the more the cops are going to be cautious of you. Activists and alternative media folk with cameras that look relatively close to what the networks are carrying, and a press pass from what appears to be a respectable news organization have been known to chase off phalanxes of cops.
More common is that you are less likely to get pushed out of an area by the police. This can allow you to get shots that someone who's an activist, wearing a ski-mask and nose rings with a camera will miss: arrests, interviews with spokes-people, etc. Also, as the cops have begun embracing the technique of blocking all exits to street demos and arresting everyone inside, more professional looking videographers have had better luck getting out of these traps.
If You're Not Part of a Media Group Now, You Might Want to Be
The other consideration is if you are a representative of a legitimate media outlet, you are on stronger legal foundation and less vulnerable to the cops. For example, there is a Washington State law that makes it difficult for average person to videotape the audio portion of an event. This law does not apply to the "media." Also media are often exempted from police dispersal orders. It's something to consider.
If you are considering this route during a large event you may want to consider applying for a press pass from the municipality where the event is taking place, or from the organization hosting it. This will gain you the ability to cross many lines you would not be able to as a demonstrator.
Protecting Yourself from the Police
With the escalation of police tactics against demonstrators, including chemical agents and projectile weapons, videographers need to be aware of what is out there so that they can protect themselves. Some folks are concerned about the "image" of having a gas mask. The bottom line is if you're lying on the ground with a medic washing tear gas from your eyes, your not getting video when you should.
A good basic gas mask is recommended and can be purchased from most local army surplus type stores. Avoid anything with glass around the eyes. The Israeli gas masks are the cheapest, but are not designed to withstand the heavier duty stuff. It's also a good idea to have a discrete looking bag for this, something that looks like more video gear. Police do tend to target people they perceive as "threatening" in appearance, so it's important to be able to carry it discretely.
Since gas masks have been outlawed at past demonstrations, it's a good idea to be familiar with the other alternatives. One method of improvising a gas mask is to crush charcoal briquettes and sew them into a cloth. The finished product must be large enough to cover both mouth and nose. Keep this moist - a sealed plastic bag works well. Another method is to soak a large handkerchief in vinegar.
If gas masks are unavailable, eyes can also be protected with swim goggles or ski goggles, though the cloth areas of the ski goggles should be covered with duct tape, or the chemicals may leak in.
Other good basic articles are bike helmets and the protective gear favored by roller bladders. These will give some protection against batons, while at the same time avoiding a threatening appearance that may provoke police.
Getting Your Videotape Seen
If you happen to videotape something particularly damning, getting your tape on the air may be a good course to consider. The logic being that if the cops are shown misbehaving they are less likely to repeat the action.
One of the best tools for this locally is cable access television. In most areas, a person can for minimal expense, produce a show they want without corporate interference. If you have lead-time before an event it's a good idea to try to schedule airtime as near to an event as possible. Some access facilities actually have "cable drop" facilities that can be accessed for live broadcast from a remote location. There also possibilities with increased streaming capabilities for remote productions from the location of a demonstration. Other producers have literally bicycled tapes to studios. A good format for a show that's not expensive to produce involves setting up a few people with the gift of gab to give commentary in front of a mobile production studio, with quickly cued tapes being inserted into the program. There are several quasi-national video outlets such as Free Speech TV, Deep Dish TV that sometimes can be worked with if your event is significant enough.
You may, want to consider, if it's particularly damning, negotiating with one of the local stations about airing your piece. NEVER under any circumstances give these people your original tape. Many of the professionals work daily with the cops and if they're not sympathetic with the cops, they're certainly reluctant to jeopardize their relationship. Give the professional media only copies of your tape, and give them only what you'd want them to show. If events that you videotape can be reedited, corporate media have been known to do that. Also, if they offer to pay you, read any contract, and make sure they're not preventing you from showing the piece anywhere else.
02/05/2006 - You hear screeching tires, police sirens and shouting. What do you do? Duck and hide? Run in the opposite direction? Or grab a camera and hit ‘‘record?''
From the taping of the Rodney King beating in 1991 to the recording of San Bernardino County sheriff's Deputy Ivory J. Webb's shooting of Elio Carrion in Chino last Sunday, average citizens are filming an increasing number of police incidents and other newsworthy events.
Many experts attribute it to nothing more than the pervasiveness of video cameras.
‘‘The proliferation of digital cameras is pretty widespread, and now even cell phones and other things have digital video capabilities,'' said Jonathan Taplin, a professor of communications at USC.
Taplin pointed to the recent London subway bombings as a prime example.
‘‘The only images from out of those bombings were from people's cell phones,'' Taplin said. ‘‘It's just the natural evolution of all these tools getting cheaper and smaller. They're just all around.''
Michael Asimow, professor at the UCLA school of law who studies law in popular culture, agreed with Taplin but also said tapings of police incidents have become more common because past tapes, like the Rodney King video, have been used to bring police misconduct to light.
‘‘These have certainly had an impact in the past,'' Asimow said. ‘‘It occurs to people more often to pick up their cameras and start filming.''
The possibility of getting their films on television -- and maybe even getting paid for it -- is one reason people film these incidents, Asimow said, but there is another, more altruistic motive at play.
‘‘It's possible that people would want to have an impact on the legal process and make sure that justice gets done,'' Asimow said.
Even though most people don't want to be involved, and possibly testify as a witness, for fear of retaliation, Asimow said, they have fewer qualms about filming an incident because ‘‘it's the film that is talking, not them personally.''
For the average viewer exposed to repeated airings of police footage on the news, it may seem that a majority of crimes and police incidents are caught on tape, but experts say this type of video is actually rare.
‘‘The problem is a lot of these incidents tend to unfold quickly, so by the time someone grabs a camera, they're over,'' said John Burton, a Pasadena plaintiff's attorney who has specialized in police-misconduct cases in Southern California since 1984.
In the Rodney King case, Burton said, two different people filmed the beating for two different reasons.
The more famous tape was made by a man who had just bought his camera and decided to test it out when he saw what he thought would be a routine police stop. The second tape was from someone who saw the beating taking place and then ran to get a camera.
Burton, who prosecuted a case in 2000 involving Webb, said that although it is rare to have video evidence of potential police misconduct, such evidence is the best kind for these cases and is becoming more prevalent as access to video technology increases.
Based on his personal experience -- which he says is limited as his focus is on incidents of misconduct -- Burton said he has noticed tension building up in the Inland Empire between law enforcement and residents, and that may be another factor in these tapings.
‘‘I think the police out there, or at least some departments, are trying to establish a certain kind of reputation,'' Burton said -- specifically, he added, a reputation for abusing people at the end of a pursuit. ‘‘The people out there are aware of that and grabbing for video cameras,'' Burton said.
Such mistrust notwithstanding, UCLA's Asimow sees a positive side of citizens taping police activity. ‘‘It's a good thing in that it is more likely that police misconduct can be prosecuted,'' he said.
NYC sued over right to shoot video, pictures in public
01.11.06 - NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union sued the city yesterday, challenging restrictions on people's right to photograph public places after an award-winning filmmaker from India was blocked from videotaping near the MetLife building.
In its lawsuit, the civil rights group highlighted the plight of Rakesh Sharma, who said he was left feeling ashamed and humiliated when he was detained in May 2005 after police saw him use a hand-held video camera on a public street in midtown Manhattan.
Sharma was taping background footage for a documentary examining changes in the lives of ordinary people such as taxi drivers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He was told he needed a permit to film on city streets, then was denied one without explanation when he applied to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, the lawsuit said. It alleged his constitutional rights were violated.
It said he would like to resume filming but fears further police detention and harassment.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration letting Sharma film in public places and compensatory damages for his May encounter with police.
Gabriel Taussig, chief of the city's administrative law division, said the city had not received the lawsuit but would evaluate it thoroughly.
"Obviously, in this day and age, it's a high priority of New York City to ensure safety on its public streets," he said in a statement.
The NYCLU has received other complaints about people being harassed for taking pictures in public places, Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.
"The NYCLU is deeply concerned about what this says about the state of our democracy," she said. "The streets of Manhattan are public spaces, and the public has a right not only to be on the street but to take pictures on the street. Nobody should risk arrest to take out his camera or video camera."
The interference by police was not the first time Sharma has encountered resistance to his work.
State censors in India have banned his award-winning 2003 documentary, "Final Solution," saying it might trigger unrest. It shows the 2002 religious rioting in the western Indian state of Gujarat, which killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. The Hindu-Muslim mayhem began when a Muslim mob set ablaze a train carrying Hindu activists in Godhra, killing nearly 60 passengers.
The NYCLU lawsuit said Sharma's documentaries rely on candid footage of people, places and events, as he does not use actors, sets or crews.
It described Sharma as a conscientious, law-abiding resident of Bombay, India, who had never been arrested or detained by law enforcement officials before his New York experience.
Last May, Sharma was approached by police after he shot footage of traffic emerging from an underpass near Grand Central Terminal for about half an hour, the lawsuit said.
An officer asked him why he was filming the MetLife building, which sits atop the underpass, and he explained he was filming traffic and had only tilted his camera up to capture sunlight hitting buildings, the lawsuit said.
The officer then told him he thought it was suspicious that he was filming a "sensitive building," formerly the Pan Am building, for 30 minutes and that further investigation was necessary, the lawsuit said.
Sharma said he felt stunned and scared after he turned the camera on to show officers what his filming looked like, only to have one of them charge at him, shove him in the chest and grab the camera.
He said he felt ashamed and humiliated when he was kept on the street for about two hours as hundreds of people passed by or gathered to stare. Detectives later apologized after taking him to a police precinct, searching his camera and then returning it scratched and cracked, the lawsuit said.
Security officials have said that preparations for terrorist attacks against sizable buildings and other places may include videotaping for the purpose of studying approaches to the target.
In May 2005, New York police and transit officials abandoned a proposal to ban cameras in subways to prevent terrorism.
Man is cleared to record police-First Amendment protects Reedley resident, judge rules.
06.06.2006 - A Fresno County judge ordered the city of Reedley to pay more than $8,000 in attorney's fees for wrongfully taking a man to court for running a local Copwatch program in which he followed and filmed officers.
Superior Court Judge John B. Conklin on Friday ordered Reedley to pay $8,160 to Reedley resident Bernabe Santillan because the former police officer's behavior was in step with his First Amendment rights, according to the judge's 10-page response.
"The court appreciates that the officers involved in the instant matter have a difficult job to perform," Conklin wrote. "Unfortunately, at times they have contact with individuals who may engage in behavior that is considered by some to be juvenile and obnoxious. The First Amendment, however, also protects such behavior."
When reached by phone Monday, Santillan said he is happy with the ruling and plans to continue filming police. Copwatch is a grass-roots program in which community members videotape law enforcement officers while they're on duty to ward against police brutality or misconduct.
"I prevailed," Santillan, 38, said. "It's so good. It's going to be looked at by Copwatchers all over the state of California, that they're not allowed to get restraining orders against us. We have a right to observe and keep city officials accountable."
Santillan's attorney, Charles Magill, also put an interesting offer on the table. He said he will allow Reedley to pay only half of the fee if every Reedley police officer participates in a three-hour educational seminar on First Amendment rights and constitutional law, taught by Magill and his wife, also an attorney.
Magill said Monday that he doesn't know whether the Police Department will be receptive to the offer, but he believes it would be in their best interests.
"The reality of it is that there's a real need for officers to know First Amendment rights," he said. "This is a real clear-cut example of where they need to know what they can and can't do.
"Realistically, we don't want to see the city of Reedley suffer because of their ignorance to the First Amendment."
Santillan started Reedley Copwatch after he says he was roughed up by Reedley officers during an arrest in August, the same month that civil rights activists organized a Copwatch chapter in Fresno.
Santillan has ties to the Fresno group, which has thus far taken a less aggressive and more educational approach by holding "Know Your Rights" seminars.
Santillan, however, immediately took his police scanner and video camera to the streets. He already knew the nuances of their job: In the 1980s, he worked as a reserve police officer in Reedley, then became a sworn police officer in Sanger.
His presence miffed the Police Department, which tried to get a restraining order against Santillan in January. Reedley dropped its case on March 2, instead saying officers would arrest or cite Santillan if they saw him break the law or interfere with their job.
Magill filed a motion to recoup attorney's fees a month later.
In Conklin's ruling, the judge wrote that "much of the [Santillan's] activities were constitutionally protected."
But, he said, "If the defendant were to take or post photos of any law enforcement officer while engaged in nonpolice business, the Constitution may not come to his assistance."
Conklin wrote that police matters are the public's business and said the Police Department did not offer "clear and convincing" evidence that Santillan harassed officers, which they claimed in their petition for the restraining order.
"At best, the defendant persistently monitored the activities of the officers," Conklin wrote.
Santillan said he recently filed another formal complaint against a member of the Police Department in connection with a May 17 incident at a Reedley gas station.
Santillan said he was filling his vehicle with gas when two police officers drove past him, looked in his direction and mocked him with laughter.
Reedley Police Chief Doug Johnson and attorney Craig Mortensen, who represented the city in the case, could not be reached to comment Monday.
July 19, 2006 - FARMINGTON — Attorney Dennis Montoya said, in district court, his client Juan Mata, 33, videotaped and picketed a Farmington Police officer to air his grievances, a 12-person jury agreed.
Mata, of Farmington, was acquitted of stalking and harassing officer Mike Briseno after the jury deliberated for approximately two hours.
"I knew that the truth would prevail," Mata said following the verdict.
Montoya was also pleased with the verdict.
"We are very happy that once again the First Amendment is alive and well in San Juan County," he said.
The trial was the second for Mata, who was convicted Aug. 8, 2005 of harassment, stalking and criminal libel in Magistrate Court. That decision was appealed to District Court where Mata was acquitted Tuesday evening.
District Judge William Birdsall dropped the rare criminal libel charge April 4, deeming it "unconstitutional."
Briseno, an officer with Farmington Police for about four years, said he was disappointed the jury didn't agree that Mata harassed him.
"I don't think the jury heard the whole case," he said outside District Court, adding jurors were not allowed to hear "threats" Mata made against him.
William Cooke, who was appointed to the case as special prosecutor by District Attorney Lyndy Bennett, could not be reached for comment following the verdict.
Cooke is an attorney for the city of Farmington.
During court Tuesday, Briseno admitted to passing in front of Mata's Sycamore Street home "hundreds" of times, but said it was part of the department's patrol area.
Montoya asked Briseno whether Mata had ever passed by his home.
"I've never seen him drive by my house, no," the officer responded.
Briseno said patrols are a regular occurrence in the neighborhood because of gang activity, adding a San Juan County Sheriff's deputy was shot about a half-block from Mata's home.
The officer said his concerns grew as Mata petitioned and picketed him in front of the police station Oct. 28, 2004. As Mata's attempts to get the officer fired or disciplined "failed," Briseno said he thought Mata would harm his family.
Although Mata admitted to protesting outside the station, he said he never did anything more than sign a petition calling for an investigation into claims Briseno conducted illegal searches.
Mata said he signed the petition and picketed because he felt nothing was being done about the searches.
Cooke said further proof of Mata's harassment of the officer was evidenced in a Sept. 9, 2004 letter by former Mata attorney Ron Adamson.
The "indictment" letter charged Briseno with 11 felony counts, Cooke said.
However, Brandon Cummings, a contracted legal assistant to Adamson, Montoya and several local attorneys, said he wrote the letter based on a videotape submitted by Mata, who claimed Briseno was following him.
The letter was signed by Adamson, Cummings said.
"I didn't talk to Juan (Mata) at all before writing this letter," Cummings testified, adding that the purpose of the letter was to have an investigation opened into Mata's claims of harassment.
Capt. Doug Kennedy said Briseno was not one of the officers following Mata, adding Briseno was on vacation out of state at the time.
Briseno testified he and his family refrained from going out in public for fear of their safety.He said he would also light up dark areas outside his home after returning from his shift at 3:30 a.m.
"I'd continually be aware of my surroundings," Briseno said.
"It is not officer Briseno who has reasons to fear Juan Mata, it's Juan Mata that has reasons to fear officer Briseno," Montoya said during closing arguments.
Picketing the officer and signing a petition are protected under the U.S. Constitution, he said. Montoya added both actions were an attempt to get the police department to open an investigation into allegations Briseno was misusing his power.
"Most members of the public should feel free to do that much," Montoya said.
Two judges found Briseno to be "less than credible" in his testimony in two previous cases, Montoya said.
In 1999, former District Judge George Harrison sided with resident Teresa Ashcroft, who claimed Briseno searched her without permission. Again in Nov. 2000, a federal court found that Briseno didn't have the right to search Sam Pringle, Montoya said.
Briseno also lost a civil rights case against Farmington resident Chester Mitchell, who was awarded $500, Montoya said.
Briseno said it was the judges' "opinions" that he was not credible in those cases.
Plan would arm St. Louis residents with video cameras.
St. Louis — Nearly a year after the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri announced plans to arm north St. Louis residents with video cameras to record interactions with police, the program still has not begun.
The ACLU originally planned to provide the video cameras to residents by summer after a series of incidents raised concern over potential police brutality. But nearly a year later, the plan has not gotten off the ground, according to Reditt Hudson, who heads up the ACLU's racial justice program.
Hudson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the program is still coming, though the organization was unwilling to discuss timing, other than to say it is working carefully and quietly toward starting up next year.
"The important thing is that the program is very much in the works," said Brenda Jones, the chapter's executive director. "It's an important initiative, and we plan to have something we can talk publicly about early in the year."
The ACLU announced the program, the Racial Justice Initiative, in December, saying the videotaping would begin after a series of workshops aimed at helping blacks learn how to protect their rights during dealings with police.
Jones said some of the workshops took place this year.
Hudson, a former city police officer, has long said the department sometimes mistreats and unfairly targets blacks. He said the ACLU hopes the presence of cameras will act as a deterrent to abuse.
Victim of False Arrest Gets Police Check in ACLU Office
John Doe (name changed to protect the innocent) was videotaping the scene in Freedom Plaza when a Park Police officer asked him if he had a permit to videotape. When Doe refused to turn off his camera, he was arrested! The Park Police sustained Mr. Doe's claim of misconduct, disciplined the police officer and now have paid Mr. Doe a five-figure check for damages to settle the lawsuit filed by the ACLU-NCA on his behalf.
This case illustrates the abuse of authority that some Park Police officers engage in, to the discredit of the majority who do not. Here are some of the facts as laid out in the complaint.
One summer afternoon, Mr. Doe was crossing Freedom Plaza while carrying his videocamera when he saw Park Police Officer Brian Perry interacting with a group of young people and began videotaping the scene.
Officer Perry then approached plaintiff and the following dialogue ensued (as recorded on plaintiff’s videotape):
Officer Perry: How you doing? Do you have a permit to be taping on National Park Service grounds? Goodbye! [Waving him away.] See ya. See ya. [Waving.] Sir, I’m asking you … you’re interfering with a government function. Goodbye! Plaintiff: I’m recording a government function, I’m not interfering. Officer Perry: No you’re not. You got a permit for it? Plaintiff: Why do I need to have a permit? Officer Perry: ’cause you’re taping me. I’m a government agent. Plaintiff: Why do I need to have a permit to tape you? Officer Perry: You need a permit to tape me, yes you do. Get lost! Plaintiff: I need a ... I need ... Can you explain that to me? So I can find a proper reference of that. Where can I find the information on that? Officer Perry: You being here is gonna cost them so if it’s your friends that are right here … Plaintiff: They’re not my friends. I don’t know any of these people. Officer Perry: OK. OK. Plaintiff: But I think if they are being… Officer Perry: You’re interfering with a government function. I’m gonna ask you one more time and then you’re gonna get locked up. Plaintiff: I’m not interfering with a government function. I wasn’t interfering, I was recording. Officer Perry: You’re bothering me, bothering me. You’re interrupting my business. Plaintiff: So my presence recording you bothers you enough that you would lock me up? Officer Perry: Yes it is. Yes it is. Yes it is. Plaintiff: And you have authority to do that? Officer Perry: Yes I do. Plaintiff: By what ... By what ...? Officer Perry: You’re interfering with a government function. 36 CFR. Want me to go find it? Plaintiff: And what exactly is that? No, I’ll find it if you can tell me where it is. Officer Perry: You’re gonna get locked up. Put your hands behind your back. Plaintiff: You’re gonna lock me up? You’re gonna lock me up? Officer Perry: Put your hands behind your back. Put your hands behind your back.
Officer Perry then placed plaintiff under arrest, handcuffed him, summoned other officers to the scene, and transported plaintiff to a police facility for processing.
Officer Perry’s conduct was unjustified:
There is no law or regulation requiring plaintiff to have a permit to videotape on National Park Service grounds. There is no law or regulation requiring plaintiff to have a permit to videotape a Park Police officer. Plaintiff was not interfering with Officer Perry. Plaintiff was not interfering with a government function. Officer Perry did not have probable cause to arrest plaintiff for any offense. Officer Perry had no legal or factual justification to arrest or detain plaintiff. On the ride to the police facility, Officer Perry told plaintiff that, as it was a Friday afternoon, he could expect to spend “a long weekend in jail.” Officer Perry knew or should have known that this statement was probably untrue. In fact, plaintiff was processed and held in a cell for approximately six hours. He was released late that evening with a citation charging him with having violated 36 CFR § 2.32 (“Interfering with agency functions”).
Mr. Doe returned from the West Coast to Washington for his criminal hearing where, after neither Officer Perry nor anyone else fromt he Park Police appeared, the charge was dismissed. Shortly thereafter, when he was riding his bicycle on Pennsylvania Avenue, Officer Perry saw him and began following him in his police vehicle, calling to him over his loudspeaker in an excited tone. Officer Perry had no justification for acting in that manner.
Mr. Doe filed a complaint with the U.S. Park Police regarding Officer Perry’s conduct. Plaintiff subsequently received a letter from Captain James W. Moore, Commander, Central District, U.S. Park Police, stating:
“After investigation, we have concluded that your complaint must be classified as sustained, that is the allegation is supported by sufficient evidence to justify a reasonable conclusion of misconduct. As such, we will be taking the appropriate administrative action against the officer.”
In December 2004, John Doe (center in photo above) was at the ACLU-NCA office with Legal Director Arthur Spitzer (left) and Staff Counsel Donn Cohen (right), together with his settlement check from the government.
We have presented in some detail the facts set forth in the complaint so that everyone can understand how tragic it is when a police officer violates his public trust and abuses the rights of his fellow human being.
Although not reflective of all--or even most--law enforcement officials, Officer Perry's conduct is, sad too say, also not uncommon (as you can gather from any check of the news or this website).
Mr. Doe had the determination to stand up for his rights, and the foresight to keep his videocamera running. Had not the Park Police been confronted by that evidence, one wonders how forthcoming would have been their laudable conclusion that Officer Perry had indeed engaged in misconduct?
Similarly, without the benefit of a recording, one wonders how many other charges by a police officer that an individual has "interfered with an investigation," "failed to move along," or was similarly both groundless and retaliatory--but never remedied?
If you believe that you have been the victim of police misconduct in Washington, DC or Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, please contact the ACLU-NCA office at (202) 437-0800.
Texas - Was the arrest of Daily News photographer Nick Adams during Mardi Gras a big deal? We think it was, and here’s why.
We frequently get complaints from people who claim to have been roughed up by the police during Mardi Gras. Most of the people making the complaints admit they were drinking. Most of the time there are no witnesses to back up their version of events.
Sometimes they do have witnesses, but we check out the story and it just doesn’t add up. Most times we wind up with the word of one unreliable witness against the word of police officers. When that’s all there is, we don’t publish a story.
Some people will accuse us of picking on the police in this case. The fact is, we hear a lot more stories about police abuse than we take seriously. We don’t go screaming to press every time somebody with 14 burglary convictions claims he was cuffed too tightly.
We know from long experience and close association that most police officers are good people doing a difficult job.
We also know from long experience and close association that police officers sometimes do wrong.
Nick Adams wasn’t drinking at Mardi Gras. He was doing his job, taking photographs for the newspaper. His version of events is different from the two versions of events so far offered by the police. His is more believable than either of the police versions.
One police report says he tried “several times to shove past officers” to take a picture. He already was taking pictures when a League City police officer threw him to the ground.
He didn’t need to get past the officers and didn’t try to. Adams says his first interaction with the officer was having his camera shoved back into his face and being ordered to stop taking pictures.
He said he backed up when the officer shoved him and that the officer followed.
What he didn’t do was stop taking pictures. He and you and anybody else has a right to take pictures in a public place whether the police like it or not.
What happened after Adams was arrested makes us wonder. While the police had custody of him and his digital camera, they deleted two pictures he took just before being arrested.
Somebody also took photographs with the camera inside the temporary holding area police set up during Mardi Gras.
In other words, police tampered with and otherwise used his personal property without his permission while Adams was in jail.
We wonder what was going on with the cell phones, credit cards, check cards and automobiles of people arrested that night.
Were the police making temporary use of them, as well?
Police Chief Kenneth Mack said such behavior would be unusual and against policy.
We think it was outrageous and illegal and it makes us wonder what other policies and laws and civil rights were being violated that night.