Cop Harasses Photographer, Steals His Cellphone Battery And Attempts To Get YouTube To Pull The Incriminating Video (Techdirt)
Monday February 24th, 2014
Recording a police officer in public isn't a crime. Well, it isn't anything a cop can cite or arrest you for doing. Instead, a bunch of vague infractions are listed in hopes that something will stick and deter future citizen recordings.
Shawn Randall Thomas, a New York photographer, was approached by NYPD officer Efrain Rojas when he noticed Thomas filming another officer's interaction with a turnstile jumper in a subway station. "Approached" is putting it mildly. Rojas confronted Thomas and got physical when the photographer refused to stop filming. (via Techdirt reader Tony Loro)
A New York City cop beat up and arrested a man for video recording him inside a subway station from 30 feet away Saturday night, walking up to him and getting in his face all while claiming the man was invading his personal space… As if the impromptu "use of force" wasn't enough, Thomas was also charged with the following:
Thomas also obtained footage from another man who had recorded Rojas with his knees on Thomas’ back as he lay face down on the sidewalk just outside the sub station, seconds after Rojas had bashed his face into the pavement, busting his lip.
The injury was so bad that they had to transport him to the hospital twice during his 24-hour incarceration where doctors described him as a victim of assault.
[Thomas] is still facing charges of resisting arrest, trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing government… Here's the video:
Note that Rojas had to come over to where Thomas was filming (nearly 30 feet away) in order to be "obstructed." Note also that Thomas was filming in a public location, where it's almost impossible to "trespass." And note that the de rigueur "resisting arrest" is included only because Thomas didn't apply his own handcuffs, hoof it to the nearest cruiser and slide into the back seat.
Here's the description of "resisting arrest" from the arrest report itself:
Deponent further states that, at the above time and place, defendant did resist a lawful arrest by crossing defendants' arm across defendant's chest while deponent attempted to place defendant in handcuffs. But it gets worse. Officer Rojas apparently grabbed Thomas' cellphone and either deleted the footage or removed the battery in order to prevent Thomas from filming any further. (PINAC's account of this event mentions "deletion" and Thomas using Recuva to recover the deleted footage, but the description of events only says Rojas took Thomas' phone and pocketed the battery.) Thomas then took out his backup phone (a Blackberry) and tried to continue filming, at which point Rojas "knocked the phone out of [Thomas'] hand" and slammed him to the ground.
Either way, Rojas made an effort to prevent any further filming. The incident report filed by Rojas makes no mention of the fact that he seized a cellphone and either deleted footage or seized the phone's battery. He also undermines the charge of trespassing by noting the area where Thomas was filming was public, which is contrary to Rojas' filmed assertion that Thomas was "violating" his "personal space."
Apparently, Rojas wasn't done with feeling "violated" by Thomas' filming. According to PINAC's Facebook page, Officer Rojas filed a privacy complaint asking YouTube to remove the video. YouTube, fortunately, turned his request down, which means that Rojas will now have to deal with a recording that contradicts (or severely weakens) many of the claims he made in his sworn statements (the arrest report).
As PINAC and Thomas point out, the obstruction charge is especially baseless, given Thomas' distance from the officers (approx. 30 feet compared to the report's "close proximity") and the fact that the entire situation appears to be completely under control by the time Officer Rojas arrives. Rojas seems to be the only cop there who viewed Thomas and his camera as somehow interfering with police business. Rojas then abandons his "partner" -- who is presumably dealing with an actual criminal -- solely to harass someone with a camera. If nothing else, Rojas has problems with prioritizing, giving the non-criminal (and protected) act of filming precedence over an actual law enforcement work.
Officer Rojas had multiple paths to take when he noticed a citizen filming him performing his public duties in a public place. Unfortunately, he decided to take the well-worn path and violate the rights of the photographer. And like many others, this decision has done nothing more than heap more negative publicity on the police department and the officer involved. The correct response -- ignore it and do your job -- still remains largely untested.