Des Moines, IA -- For years now, the Free Thought Project has been reporting on and participating in the act of filming the police. Recently, there has been a new phenomenon taking off, not just of folks filming arrests and police stops, but filming police departments to see how they react to legal behavior. These folks take to public spaces and legally begin filming to see what the police response will be. The practice of legally filming public spaces to report on the police response is known as a "First Amendment Audit."
While TFTP has reported on multiple instances in which good cops actually uphold their oaths to the constitution and protect the citizen's right to film in public, the majority of them react by showing their ignorance of the law.
As the co-founder of TFTP, Jason Bassler points out, "More often than not the officers demonstrate they are more concerned with intimidation, dominance and subservience than knowing or upholding the law. Because many of them react so poorly while highlighting the lack of understanding they have for their job, the videos go mega viral garnering millions of views. The virility in turn creates incentive for more people to pick up the camera and "audit" police in their city and in the slightest way helps push back against the ever increasing police state."
One particularly egregious case of police failing to uphold their oaths to the constitution comes out of Des Moines, Iowa, and was shared with TFTP this week. The gentleman in the video had committed no crime, was polite, and was acting entirely within the constraints of the Constitution, yet he was bullied, detained, harassed, his rights violated, and had his equipment stolen.
Adding to the disgusting nature of this rights violation, when the victim, Daniel Robbins attempted to seek civil action against the department for their most shameful treatment of this innocent man, a judge sided with the cops. The judge claimed that Robbins' completely legal activity -- protected by the Constitution of the United States -- was probable cause for cops to detain him, harass him, and confiscate his equipment.
According to the Des Moines Register, Charles Wolle, a senior U.S. district judge, ruled that protected activity was not the provocation for officers to seize Daniel Robbins' camera and phone after he recorded police department employees from the sidewalk behind the department's headquarters. After Robbins did that and declined to explain his purpose to officers, they had probable cause for a search and seizure, Wolle wrote.
Not only were the cops completely ignorant of the Constitution they swore an oath to uphold, but the judge appears to be equally incompetent.
The First Amendment of the Constitution and multiple court cases have clearly established that all Americans have the right to record the police. What's more, the 5th Amendment of the Constitution upholds the right of Americans not to have to identify themselves to police and their right to remain silent. Nevertheless, the cops and the court ignored all of it.
As the video below illustrates, Robbins had done nothing wrong, was harming no one and was merely practicing his First Amendment right to film in public when he was approached by a tyrant cop who was hell bent on violating Robbins' rights. Perhaps this rights violation was due to the fact that Robbins was documenting an officer's illegal behavior.
According to Robbins, he "was surrounded, detained and threatened with arrest" on May 10, 2018, when he recorded a Des Moines Police Department employee illegally parked in front of a "no parking" sign outside the police station.
According to the lawsuit, Robbins, a radio producer and journalist, was standing on East Second Street when he saw a police employee leave the police station, get into an illegally parked vehicle and drive away. Robbins began recording what he saw on his phone.
That's when officer Brad Youngblut approached Robbins and began his blatant intimidation and outright bullying.
Youngblut immediately demanded to know why Robbins was filming. Robbins, well within his rights, asks if he's doing anything illegal.
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"Oh, you're one of those guys, aren't you?" Youngblut tells Robbins.
Youngblut then replies with one of the most oft-repeated phrases from those who want to see First Amendment Auditors arrested.
"What if I came to your house and started filming?" Youngblut asks, creating a false equivalency and ignoring all logic.
"Do you live here?" Robbins asks in return. "You can come to my business any time and stand on a public sidewalk and film."
This application of logic appeared to infuriate Youngblut who then called out his fellow bullies in blue to further harass and intimidate Robbins.
The entire time, Robbins is polite and compliant, asking if there is anything that he can do to ease the officers' suspicions. However, these officers couldn't have cared less about having their alleged suspicions lowered. They were dead set on making sure this well informed citizen was punished for knowing and asserting his rights.
Robbins was subsequently surrounded by cops, detained, and had his equipment unlawfully confiscated -- acts which the cops and the court considered entirely lawful.
"Robbins' actions in photographing police cars outside the station created reasonable suspicion among the officers that he was engaging in criminal activity," Wolle wrote, adding that Robbins was given "ample opportunity to allay the officers' suspicion."
The judge even had the audacity to claim that the "suspicion" allegedly created by Robbins flexing his rights, justified his detainment and equipment confiscation and noted that Robbins' rights were never violated -- a ridiculous notion indeed.
According to the Des Moines Register, Gary Dickey, an attorney at Dickey & Campbell who is representing Robbins, declined to comment on Wolle's ruling because Robbins plans to appeal. A Des Moines police spokesman also cited the likelihood of an appeal in declining to comment on the ruling or the outcome of an internal investigation of the confrontation.
TFTP reached out to Robbins, but under advice from his attorney, he is not giving a statement at this time.
As you watch the video below, and the shameful failure by the police to uphold their oaths to the Constitution, remember that this is why First Amendment Audits are not only increasing in frequency, but are entirely necessary.