A man claims he was arrested and spent five days in jail for the crime of visiting the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department and conducting a First Amendment audit. The end result of being arrested was most certainly no laughing matter, however, the man's calm demeanor and quick wit made for one hilarious video of police officers getting schooled in the law.
First Amendment audits are a form of holding police accountable, not only for the way they interact with the public but also for the way they defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. Audit after audit has revealed that officers often break their oaths and then attempt to intimidate auditors in the process, and the latest example from Florida depicted such an interaction, which is sure to go viral.
Going by the Youtube channel name of "Big Nick South Florida Accountability," an unidentified auditor recorded his interactions with police outside the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. Big Nick started recording outside the Parks and Recreation Dept., which had been moved over to the old jail facility just outside Police Headquarters.
After filming for a while, a man who is presumed to have been a plainclothes officer approached him and asked him if he could "help him." Big Nick fired back, "You can bring me a Coke." The sarcastic response drew a reaction from the unidentified man who then called another officer to "help" him.
Needing no help but to be left alone, free to record officers engaged in their daily duties, Big Nick addressed the officer and explained what he was doing, and the officer walked away.
Soon, Big Nick drew the attention of a Captain in the department who also asked if he could "help" him. After telling the Capt. he needed no help, he then approached the law enforcement leader for further scrutiny. "Since you engaged me, can I have your name and badge number?" asked the auditor.
That's when the old dog leader's demeanor suddenly changed and Big Nick was able to record exactly how police officers often operate. Captain David Wheeler demanded to see Big Nick's identification, even though Florida is not a stop and identify state, a fact Big Nick instantly questioned.
"Are you familiar with the Florida penal code on presenting ID?" Big Nick asked.
After reminding the old school law enforcement officer of the law that states a suspect can only be stopped and questioned if he is in the commission of a crime, committed a crime, or is preparing to commit a crime, Big Nick asked: "Which one have I done?"
Wheeler responded, "Suspicious activity, sir," but was interrupted by Big Nick, who said, "That's not a crime. Is that a misdemeanor or a felony?" The Captain then questioned whether or not Big Nick was "loitering" or "prowling," to which the auditor responded that he was doing neither and was engaged in his business of reporting, a constitutionally protected activity.
"I haven't entered your property so let's try another intimidation tactic," Big Nick said.
Captain Wheeler was obliged to comply and began walking uncomfortably close to Big Nick for which the auditor asked, "Why are you approaching me aggressively like this? I'm a citizen do you understand that? Do you respect citizens in Florida? Why are you being so aggressive with me?"
The whole scenario could have been avoided if the Captain did not feel the need to engage, question, and intimidate the auditor. Here is a little secret. Citizens of Broward County report instances of harassment to an underground network of auditors who are more than happy to leave their homes and investigate just how free people are to engage police without being harassed. The police don't seem to understand this fact and fall into the "you can't be here doing that" kind of mentality. The interaction with Big Nick and Captain Wheeler continued.
"Can you please back up? You have a weapon. I have no weapons. Can you please back up? You're intimidating me, sir. I'm starting to fear for my life. Can you please back up?" Big Nick said.
That is when Wheeler issued a veiled threat, one might conclude. He replied, "You don't have to fear for your life, not yet!"
Big Nick pounced on that comment by asking, "Is that a threat?"
The Captain then backed down from being caught on camera appearing to threaten a citizen for exercising his First Amendment rights to film in public on public sidewalks, without interfering with a police investigation.
After Big Nick explained that he was a journalist engaged in constitutionally protected information gathering for a story, Wheeler then asked for his press credentials. No one needs press credentials to be a citizen journalist. The Captain, as well as Big Nick, both know this fact.
"That's the freedom of the press. Is there anything else you'd like to learn about the law? Anything else you'd like to learn about the law? You're intimidating me, sir, I don't appreciate that," Big Nick said.
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Seeing that he was not getting anywhere with Big Nick, one of Fort Lauderdale's most powerful leaders then began to approach the man even more aggressively, stating that he could walk right up to Big Nick's camera. The auditor responded, "If you touch me that's assault."
Continuing to press in on Big Nick, Captain Wheeler then said, "It would be battery if I touched you, wouldn't it?"
Police officers often arrest and charge citizens with assault and battery even though it is the officer which initiates the contact. Without video evidence, those charges cost citizens thousands and sometimes go on their criminal records. Big Nick remarked, "Let's not do that Captain. I'm sure you love your qualified immunity."
While the Captain was engaged with Big Nick, three more officers responded as back-up for their leader. Again, no crime had been committed, was being committed, or would be committed, but four officers were on scene.
"Come on, man, what's with the tyranny man. This is America. Did you take an oath to the Constitution?" Big Nick asked.
Captain Wheeler continued to ask for identification, to which Big Nick responded, "I'd really prefer if you back up. You are armed. You have all types of weapons on you. I don't want to get shot 20 times...a lot of other people didn't think it was going to happen but it did, didn't it? Follow your oath, sir. Honor your oath! Please honor your oath you're going to be a youtube star, sir, so they can see how Ft. Lauderdale treats its citizens."
Big Nick's encounter with Captain Wheeler ends with the auditor reminding the law enforcement leader of darker days in human history whereby citizens were forced to not only identify themselves but also reveal their religious affiliations.
"It's not Nazi Germany, sir," Big Nick said. "There's no 'papers please' here. You don't have to understand who I am."
That is when the police officer revealed what motivated him to aggressively interact with Big Nick. He said, "9/11 Changed Everything."
Big Nick fired back, "9/11 didn't change my Constitutional rights! It didn't change the Fourth Amendment!"
That is something both men agreed upon, and the video ended, but the drama did not. Late Wednesday evening, Big Nick uploaded another video where he described what happened after he went back for a second time to the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department.
Big Nick said he was arrested for trespassing in the lobby of the police department where he was assaulted when the handcuffs were tightened so firmly it cut into his skin. He said he spent five and a half days in jail for trespassing on public property. If true, the police department truly violated his Constitutional rights and will likely be sued in court.
They allegedly also confiscated his phone for "evidence" to be used against him. Big Nick said he will fight the charges in court after pleading "not guilty." Big Nick gave his case number but when we at TFTP tried to search for the case we could not find one. Did they jail him without filing criminal charges? We are still attempting to answer that question.
According to the mugshot Big Nick provided, his real name is Nicholas Stefan Freeman. Freeman said there were "a lot of tyrants at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department" and added, "they literally scared the BeJesus outta me."
Freeman is now calling on all First Amendment auditors who can make time in their day, to come to the city and conduct audits, saying he is going to "need a lot of help." For those who cannot come and support the audits, Freeman said citizens can call Sheriff Rick Maglione at (954) 838-5523 and voice objections over Freeman's arrest for lawful conduct in recording police officers engaged in their daily duties as sworn officers of the peace.
"If anyone is close to South Florida, if anyone's in South Florida if anyone wants to take a trip to South Florida, we need to get on the Florida police department," Freeman said.
In the meantime, Freeman promised to hire a civil rights attorney and file a civil rights lawsuit.