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Cell phone footage mysteriously deleted in police custody

Mikael Thalen
March 7, 2014

A man in Fall River, Mass. has been charged with unlawful wiretapping for recording a police officer shouting profanities in public.

During the Jan. 6 encounter, 51-year-old George Thompson overheard officer Thomas Barboza swearing profusely while talking on a cell phone across the street from his home.

“Every other word out of his mouth he was dropping the f-bomb,” Thompson told WPRI 12.

Seeing Barboza continue to swear as others walked through his neighborhood, Thomas says he then asked the officer to refrain from using foul language.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you shut the f up and mind your f’ing business?’” Thomas said.

As the officer continued his conversation, Thompson pulled out his cell phone and began recording Barboza’s unprofessional behavior.

Noticing the cell phone camera, Barboza immediately stopped what he was doing and ran onto Thompson’s front porch before placing him in handcuffs.

“He comes running up the stairs to me, looks right into the camera and he said, ‘You f’ing welfare bum, I’m arresting you,’” Thompson explained.

According to police documents, Thompson, who spent the night in jail, received a resisting arrest charge on top of the wiretapping charge as well.

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Fall River Police Chief Daniel Racine was quick to defend the officer’s actions, claiming Thompson had violated the law by “secretively” recording Barboza.

“I think we all have our basic rights and I think people should not record others surreptitiously or secretively,” Racine said.

According to Mass. state law, it is a crime to audio record anyone, even public officials, without them knowing. Many consider the law null and void given the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the right to film police in public, who have no expectation of privacy just like the general citizenry.

According to Racine, Officer Barboza did admit to swearing while on the phone and received a one day suspension for his conduct.

While Barboza’s police report claims Thompson was attempting to film secretly, Thompson outright denies the claim and says he had his arm completely outstretched as he filmed. Unfortunately, the cell phone footage was mysteriously deleted in police custody two days after the incident.

Racine alluded to the fact that he believed Thompson remotely deleted the cell phone footage despite Thompson never denying that he filmed in the first place. Racine also threatened felony charges to the responsible party while claiming any officer involved would lose their job.

“I wanted the police to see it, I wanted everybody in the city to see it,” Thompson said.

As countless police departments across the country engage in massive and unconstitutional surveillance of innocent people, many citizens attempting to legally film police are being met with violence.

Just last month, a young man in Maryland was harassed and assaulted by police for filming an arrest. Despite being among a large crowd of people, the man was specifically targeted and told he had “lost” his First Amendment for daring to document the officers’ actions.

One week prior, a Florida woman was assaulted as well for trying to legally record her own traffic stop. After being forced to spend the night in jail, officers dropped all charges and let her go despite telling her initially that her actions were illegal.

That same month, a man in New York was assaulted and arrested for filming a police encounter from more than 30 feet away. The offending officer’s claims were soon found to be false after the man’s footage, which the officer had deleted, was recovered from the phone.