Seattle, WA — 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. A video shared with the Free Thought Project this week shows just how dangerous a cop’s ignorance of the law can be.
Jay McNeal was practicing his first amendment right to film the police last Sunday when all of the sudden a deputy with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department forgot that he swore an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States.
As McNeal is filming—from a safe and comfortable distance from the officers—the deputy who was seemingly detaining another man, walked over to him and assaulted McNeal.
“I’m allowed to do this,” says McNeal as the cop attacks him.
“Here’s the deal,” says the cop-turned tyrant. “You’re gonna go in handcuffs. Is that what you want?”
“I’ve never done anything in my life, sir,” replies McNeal.
“You know what, just put your phone away,” says the officer who is apparently ignorant of the law. “Can you do that? Or, you’re going to have a big problem.”
When McNeal hesitates to have his rights trampled by the one who is ostensibly there to protect them, the cop moves in for the attack and begins physically assaulting the innocent man.
“Why are you hurting me?” asks McNeal.
“Because, you’ve been walking around too much here,” says the deputy.
Under the threat of kidnapping McNeal then concedes and tells the officer that he’ll give up his first amendment right to film in public and he will stop. However, it was too late.
According to McNeal, he was kidnapped and then forced to direct traffic to earn back his freedom.
“They released me under the condition I directed traffic,” wrote McNeal on Facebook.
And just like that, this deputy epitomized everything wrong with police in America. McNeal will undoubtedly file a lawsuit against this deputy and the taxpayers of Pierce County will be held accountable—not the cop.
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 assault, something has gone seriously wrong. No one should ever face persecution for their freedom of expression—especially in the land of the free.