Clive, IA — Filming the police is entirely legal, in every state. However, all too often, we will see police officers overstep their authority and arrest, attack, and assault innocent people for the constitutionally protected act of documenting their behavior in public. As the following case out of Clive, Iowa illustrates, cops will even pull their guns on people for exercising their First Amendment right to film in public.
In the land of the free, there are ostensible checks and balances which are in place to prevent corrupt and power drunk government officials from overstepping their authority and depriving people of their rights. The largest ostensible restraint on this power is the constitution. However, as TFTP has reported for years, despite the fact that police swear an oath to uphold this constitution, they are all too often the ones who ignore it.
In an exclusive interview with the Free Thought Project, activist and First Amendment auditor, Floyd Wallace tells us that over the weekend, he went to the Clive Police Department to request documents under the Freedom of Information Act to see how much the police department receives in taxes.
During his trip to the department, Wallace began filming and this act quickly garnered him the attention of Clive’s finest.
While filming the department, Wallace was surrounded by several officers, who then initiated an unlawful Terry stop. Because Wallace was on public property, he was legally allowed to film. Despite this fact, the officers — who Wallace told to “mind your own business” — began searching his pockets to check him for weapons.
Wallace repeatedly tells the officers not to touch him and that he does not consent to their search. However, the proceed anyway.
At this point, two of the cops pull out their guns and point the deadly weapons a Wallace — for filming them.
Wallace is then blindsided by a third officer who quite literally assaulted him for the act of filming from public property.
“What would have happened to me if I would have grabbed you like that?” asks Wallace.
The officer ignored his question, clearly realizing that Wallace would have been beaten, tasered, or shot had he done the same thing to the officer.
To justify their actions, one of the officers stated that cops “are getting ambushed on a regular basis in their department parking lots.”
The Free Thought Project searched the internet for stories of cops getting ambushed in their department parking lots and we found exactly two instances in the last year: one in New York and one in Arkansas. In New York, a deranged lunatic walked inside a Bronx police department and began shooting. In Arkansas, a cop was ambushed in his car. Wallace was on the sidewalk filming, hardly the same behavior.
After Wallace refused to have his rights trampled, the cops were forced to leave as they had nothing on which to detain him. He had asserted his rights and won — luckily without being shot by these gun-happy officers.
As TFTP has reported, it has been clearly established that all Americans have the right to record the police. For an officer of the law to remain willingly ignorant of this precedent is at best, dereliction of duty, and at worst, unlawful deprivation of rights. Either way, these cops were in the wrong.
As the ACLU points out,
Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right—and that includes transportation facilities, the outside of federal buildings, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.
Unfortunately, law enforcement officers have been known to ask people to stop taking photographs of public places. Those who fail to comply have sometimes been harassed, detained, and arrested. Other people have ended up in FBI databases for taking innocuous photographs of public places.
The right of citizens to record the police is a critical check and balance. It creates an independent record of what took place in a particular incident, one that is free from accusations of bias, lying, or faulty memory. It is no accident that some of the most high-profile cases of police misconduct have involved video and audio records.
When police refuse to have their public service documented and this refusal morphs into kidnapping and assault, something has gone seriously wrong. No one should ever face persecution for their first amendment rights—especially in the land of the free.