In part 2 of Reveal’s in-depth look at law and disorder, we expose some of the tensions between police and the communities they serve and how video cameras are dramatically changing the public’s relationship with law enforcement.
Host: Al Letson
Executive Producer: Kevin Sullivan
Executive Editor: Susanne Reber
Editorial Director: Robert Salladay
Managing Director: Christa Scharfenberg
Lead Sound Designer and Engineer: Jim Briggs, with help from Joe Plourde
Producers: Julia B. Chan, Delaney Hall, Michael Montgomery, Neena Satija, Ike Sriskandarajah and Amy Walters
Reporters: Patrick Madden, WAMU 88.5; Ali Winston, Reveal
Editors: Fernando Diaz and Deb George, Reveal; Christina Davidson, WAMU 88.5; David Donald and Lynne Perri, Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University; and Corrie MacLaggan, The Texas Tribune
Senior Management for CIR: Joaquin Alvarado and Robert J. Rosenthal
Senior Management for PRX: John Barth, Kerri Hoffman and Jake Shapiro
Special Thanks: Alexis Bloch, Joe Domanick
Theme music for this episode is provided by Camerado/Lightning. Music is provided by Camerado/Lightning, Ghostly International, Ezekiel Honig, Anticipate Recordings, Möbius, Bump Foot and Dischord Records.
- Camerado/Lightning, “All Our Bass Are Belong to Chops” (Cutoff Man Records)
- Ezekiel Honig, “A Closed Loop That Opens Everywhere” from “Folding In On Itself” (Type)
- Osborne, “Picbeat” from “Out Groove (Ghostly Songs)
- Dabrye, “Magic Says (feat. Jay Dee and Phat Kat)” from “Game Over” (Ghostly International)
- Ezekiel Honig, “Porchside Prologue” from “Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band” (Anticipate Recordings)
- Ezekiel Honig, “Porchside Economics” from “Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band” (Anticipate Recordings)
- Dabrye, “Magic Says (feat. Jay Dee and Phat Kat)” from “Game Over” (Ghostly International)
- Fugazi, “Slo Crostic” from “Instrument Soundtrack” (Dischord Records)
- Ezekiel Honig, Untitled from “Technology is Lonely” (Anticipate Recordings)
- Dabrye, “Hyped-Up Plus Tax (Outputmessage RMX)” from “Payback” (One/Three)
- Shigeto, “Huron River Drive (Evenings Remix)” from “Huron River Drive” (Ghostly International)
- Fugazi, “Swingset” from “Instrument Soundtrack” (Dischord Records)
- Tycho, “Send and Receive” from “Past is Prologue” (Ghostly International)
- Shigeto, “Tide Pools” from “Ghostly Swim 2” (Ghostly International)
- Tycho, “Adrift” from “Dive” (Ghostly International)
- Möbius, “Overheated” from “Per Aspera Ad Astra (Bump Foot)
Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.
Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.
Al: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m going to let …
Terrell: He told me, “Get on the ground,” and I asked him what I’m getting on the ground for? When he grabbed me, he threw me, then he started hitting me with the stick.
Al: In the nation’s capitol, getting charged with assaulting a cop when you did nothing wrong.
John : They’re detaining people when there’s no justification for doing so, and any resistance becomes grounds to arrest.
Al: In many cases, we only know about it because it’s caught on tape.
Male: I’m not filming you, man. I’m filming them in case they do anything.
Officer: We need backup.
Cory: Cop watch, April 16th, this is where you’re supposed to be.
Al: All across the country, citizens are using cameras to keep an eye on cops, and police say the extra attention is taking its toll.
Male: Our heightened senses are going through the roof.
Al: Citizens, cameras, and cops.
Officer: You need to back up.
Antonio: How far?
Al: That’s coming up on Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, you’re listening to Reveal. I’m Al Letson, and you don’t need me to tell you that we are living in tumultuous times.
Stephanie: As Mayor, I will continue to be relentless in changing the culture of the police department to ensure that everyone in our city is treated equally under the law.
Al: That’s Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, responding to the news that six city police officers would be charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Prosecutors say Gray suffered a fatal spinal cord injury after he was detained by police and transported in a police van. The officers are facing charges including manslaughter and murder. The chief prosecutor says the officers had no legal reason to stop Gray in the first place. No legal reason to stop him. Police stops like those contribute to tense relations between the police and residents of Baltimore, and all around the country, high profile deaths of black men at the hands of police have led to protests, from Ferguson to New York City. In the next hour, we’re going to explore the tension between police and the community from the perspective of cops, cop watchers, and people who are being stopped by the police.
We begin in Washington D.C. where we investigate why people are charging so many people with assaulting a police officer. Reveal teamed up with reporter Patrick Madden of WAMU in D.C., and a team of graduate students at American University to tell the story.
Patrick: It can be hard to find work with a criminal record, but Terrell Hargraves had finally landed a job. It all happened so quickly. There was an interview at a hospital in Washington, and just like that, he was hired as a janitor.
Terrell: It was a good day for me, you know? I just received a job, I was having a son. I just changed my life around and I was going about the right way.
Patrick: It wasn’t always that easy. Hargraves grew up in a rough neighborhood in D.C. He had gone to prison and was on parole. He’d even been shot. But back on the night of September 30th, 2011, none of that mattered. Hargraves had found a job, and he was going to his grandmother’s to celebrate.
Terrell: When we got on the block that my grandmother live on, I got out the car to get a pack of cigarettes, and I was confronted by the police officer. He walked behind me and grabbed me, and told me get on the ground. I asked him, “What I’m getting on the ground for?” When he grabbed me, he threw me and he started hitting me with the stick.
Patrick: There’s a struggle to put handcuffs on Hargraves. That old gunshot would in his right shoulder meant he couldn’t get his arm behind his back.
They say you were charged with assaulting a police officer.
Terrell: I was folding myself up. I wouldn’t never hit a police officer. I was on probation. I had thirty days left on papers.
Patrick: Basically, they’re saying, and this is an official document, that you’re moving your arm away from his grip is assaulting an officer.
Terrell: I believe it’s some junk.
Patrick: Hargraves was arrested and lost his parole. He spent months in jail awaiting his trial on the assault charge. In the end, he was found not guilty, but by then he’d lost the job at the hospital.
Terrell: I was incarcerated for nine months. I cried every day because of the simple fact that I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. I was ready to have a child, and I wasn’t able to see my son come into this world. It really hurt me.
Patrick: Spend some time down at the courthouse in D.C., and you’ll quickly realize how many stories there are like Terrell Hargraves’. In 2013, for example, more than a thousand people were arrested for assaulting an officer. That’s a lot of arrests; more than three times the rate for a city the size of D.C. Sergeant Delroy Burton is head of the city’s police union. He spent years patrolling the streets of Washington. He says he’s not surprised at how many people are arrested on the charge.
Delroy: It is a very, very tough place to work. You’re working with some members of the community who absolutely despise or even hate, which is a very harsh word, hate the police, and so they fight the police every chance they get, and every chance they get to injure a police officer, they will take it.
Patrick: In January, we asked police and prosecutors for more detailed information on the number of arrests and charges, but we didn’t hear back from them until just before our broadcast. By then, we’d already done it ourselves.
Male: We’re here at the courthouse, 4th floor. There’s a couple old school computers here, and have our team of grad students from American University.
Patrick: In this windowless room, students from the investigative reporting workshop spent months looking at all the cases from 2012 to 2014 that included an assaulting a police officer charge.
Male: Right here, we’re looking at the indictment. We’re going to find that assaulting a police officer charge and we’re also going to look at [crosstalk 00:05:59].
Patrick: There were roughly two thousand cases. We printed out all the documents. Police affidavits, case summaries, and charging documents. Here is what we learned. Nine out of ten people charged were African-American, even though only half of D.C.’s population is black. We plotted the charges on a map. Of the nearly two thousand cases, only a handful happened in the predominantly white wealthy sections of upper northwest D.C., and this charge, assault on a police officer, kept coming up again and again in all kinds of everyday interactions with police, from traffic stops to calls about domestic violence.
John : Okay, hold on. Let me look at the statute here.
Patrick: We went to meet John Copacino. He’s led the Criminal Justice Clinic at Georgetown Law for nearly three decades. We asked him about the history of this charge.
John : Assault, yes. 22405, assault any member of the police force.
Patrick: He thumbs through a well worn copy of D.C.’s criminal code.
John : It says, “Whoever, without justifiable and excusable cause, assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with the law enforcement officer shall be guilty.” That just gives police a whole lot of area to arrest people, charge them, and convict them for conduct that most people don’t think of as an assault.
Patrick: Many of the cases we looked at in our investigation fell into that broad definition of assault. Take, for example, Emmanuel Wilson. He was in the car with his pregnant girlfriend when they were pulled over by the police. It turned out she was driving with a suspended license. The officer is wearing a body camera.
Officer: Ma’am, could you step out of the car for me, please?
Patrick: She gets out, but starts screaming. The officers push her up against the cars. They handcuff her.
Female: [inaudible 00:07:57].
Officer: Put your hands behind your back so you can be handcuffed. It’s not that big of a deal.
Patrick: Wilson gets out of the car to tell the cops she’s pregnant.
Female: [inaudible 00:08:04].
Patrick: Immediately, the officers tackle and arrest him.
Officer: Take him to the ground.
Female: [inaudible 00:08:09].
Patrick: Just for getting out of the car, Wilson was charged with assaulting a police officer. At the trial, the judge told Wilson he had “a normal human reaction when he heard his girlfriend screaming,” but under D.C. law, he was guilty of the assault. The judge apologized, and sentenced Wilson to the time he’d already served in jail, thirty days.
The US Congress passed the law in the 1950s. At the time, Congress controlled D.C.’s local laws. At a hearing on Capitol Hill, the city’s police chief testified that his men were having trouble arresting people. Often, crowds would gather during an arrest, he said, and shout at the police. Asked by a Congressman if that was embarrassing, the chief replied, “That’s correct.”
John : Police officers have a legitimate need to be protected from being assaulted, but the statute goes too far, and criminalizes too much.
Patrick: Legal expert John Copacino says the language in the law is too broad. It applies to every law enforcement agency that operates in Washington. Not just the D.C. police, but the US Capitol police, Secret Service, park police, even armed security guards. Over the years, lawmakers have continued to tweak the language. In 1970, during a period of antiwar protest and riots, the law was rewritten so that a person couldn’t resist police even when the arrest was illegal. This, Copacino says, had major repercussions.
John : It turns a bad stop into a legitimate arrest, so that in the end, the police, when they are clearly arresting someone for no reason, if the person resists by pulling away, by not putting his hands behind his back, that becomes a crime in itself.
Patrick: The city’s police training manual states officers need reasonable suspicion to stop someone. It can’t be based on a hunch. Let’s take another look at Terrell Hargrave’s case. He was in a car a block from his grandmother’s house. The police were behind him. Their report said Hargraves was in a high crime area and he looked over his shoulder several times in the car, and then got out quickly. The police considered this suspicious behavior. [Jim Bailey 00:10:35] is Terrell Hargraves’ lawyer. He says the police accused his client of being on drugs, although none were found.
Jim : I believe that they had to come up with this APO charge to justify what they did to my client because they never found anything on him.
Patrick: After being cleared, Hargraves’ is now suing for false arrest.
Jim : What we have is a man who was a passenger in a car on Minnesota Avenue. The car pulled over in a public area. It was not stopped by the police. My client steps out of the car, and just a few seconds later, a police officer is on him, telling him to stop and I’m going to put you in handcuffs.
Patrick: Since 2007, the number of assault on an officer cases has exploded. That’s because the law was amended again, this time to include misdemeanor charges, not just felonies. In the three years’ worth of cases we looked at, we found that most of them, nearly two-thirds of cases, people were charged with assaulting a police officer, and nothing else. No drug charges, no robbery charges, nothing. We took our findings to John Copacino at Georgetown.
John : That tells you a lot; that there’s no other crime being committed, and that the police, they’re probably stopping or detaining people where there’s no justification for doing so, and any resistance to that becomes grounds to arrest.
Patrick: We took the same numbers to Cathy Lanier, the police chief of Washington D.C.
Cathy: I don’t know that it would be an indicator that there’s something wrong, that it’s the only charge. Interactions with people with mental health issues, that could lead to a confrontation, and there would be no other charge.
Patrick: Lanier says her officers aren’t using the law to mask questionable stops, but, she says, this statute is not helping the department’s relationship with the community.
Cathy: If you talk to a lot of people who have been charged with APO, their conduct might meet the statute, but there’s no physical assault. They feel like they’ve been overcharged.
Patrick: Do you think that there are too many arrests happening for APO?
Cathy: I absolutely do. I think if we narrowed that law so that it was very specific about the intent and the elements of the crime, we would have a lot less arrests. Absolutely.
Patrick: Some civil rights advocates say that’s not enough. Not only is the law turning bad stops into lawful arrests, they say, it disguises even worse behavior.
Patrice: I think that it’s actually being used to cover up an excessive use of force.
Patrick: Patrice Sultan is a criminal defense attorney and member of the NAACP.
Patrice: I think that when police are brutalizing people in the community, the justification that they give for those injuries that they can’t deny is that the person either resisted arrest, or reached for a weapon, or assaulted that police officer.
Patrick: Buried in a four hundred page document submitted to the city council, we discovered a list of lawsuits pending against the police. It’s not unusual for big city police departments to get sued for police brutality, but some of the lawsuits we found seemed to follow the same script. In nearly a dozen cases from the past few years, plaintiffs have said they were beaten up by police, then falsely arrested with assaulting an officer.
Warren: Hey, Patrick.
Patrick: Hey, Warren, how are you?
Warren: How you doing, Patrick?
Patrick: Warren Cooper spent nearly twenty years in the US Navy. He served during both Gulf wars, preparing sailors to go overseas. I met him at a coffee shop in northern Virginia.
In 2013, Cooper spent a week in the hospital after an encounter with two D.C. cops in the lobby of an apartment building.
Warren: You know what? My chances would have been better over in Iraq, I feel. At least I know the dangers are there, and to get nothing but beat up, put in a hospital, embarrassed, degraded, you know, it’s just ridiculous.
Patrick: You filed a lawsuit against the city claiming excessive force, false arrest, basically documenting what happened during this incident with the police in which you were maced, thrown to the ground, beaten, and then charged with assaulting a police officer, so the city really didn’t even fight your lawsuit.
Warren: Did not fight. It might have took maybe seven months, if that, before they were coming back with an offer to, I guess, squash the case.
Patrick: Do you feel like you got justice after this whole incident?
Warren: Really, no. I think they really got away easy on this one.
Patrick: Cooper says he settled for an undisclosed amount. Others may have a more difficult time trying to sue the police. Attorney Patrice Sultan:
Patrice: If you’ve been convicted of what sounds like an assault on a police officer, even if that was just for resisting the unlawful arrest, it really hinders your credibility with the civil jury when you’re now saying that the officer used excessive force when they were arresting you.
Patrick: Police chief Cathy Lanier says she monitors the civil lawsuits against her department. She says she hasn’t seen any evidence that her officers are abusing the statute. Sergeant Delroy Burton with the police union calls it an essential tool for officers.
Delroy: I get notified every time one of our officers are injured doing their work. Five, six, seven, maybe ten times a day, my phone goes off. An officer’s been injured while conducting an arrest, or trying to search a prisoner, or trying to stop someone.
Patrick: We analyzed more than a thousand affidavits from misdemeanor assault cases. These are narratives of the event written by police officers. We found that it was the defendant who was more likely to end up needing medical attention than the police officer, the alleged victim of the assault. Burton says there’s a reason for that.
Delroy: See, if they complain injury or illness, they go to the hospital.
Patrick: For example, he says if a defendant needs their blood pressure medicine, they go to the hospital before going to jail.
Delroy: That would explain why you see arrestees go to the hospital in a lot of these cases. It doesn’t have anything to do with force being used.
Patrick: A conviction, even an arrest for assaulting a police officer, can change a person’s life. William Kenley, a Maryland corrections officer, claims in a lawsuit that he was falsely arrested for assaulting the police after he started recording them using force on a friend. He says a police officer knocked the phone out of his hand and a little while later …
William : A officer came behind me, grabbed my hand, put it behind my back, and told me I’m under arrest. My neighbors is like, “What are y’all doing? He didn’t do anything.” My mother was crying, she’s like, “He didn’t do anything. What are y’all doing?” Then a officer said to me, “You like to sic dogs on people, do you?” I said, “What? Sic dogs on people?” I’m bewildered. I’m like, “What are you talking about?”
Patrick: Kenley found out later, police said he’d sicced his pit bull puppy on them. For that, he was being charged with assaulting a police officer. As he was escorted to the squad car, Kenley asked one of the cops a question.
William : “Why are y’all lying on me? Why are y’all lying on me?” His response was, “Next time mind your business, and I’ll see you in court,” and he started laughing.
Patrick: The case against Kenley was later dismissed. The officers had failed to turn over a witness statement that contradicted the police version of events, but by then the damage was done. He’d been suspended from his corrections job for three months without pay. There was one other lasting effect; not a minor one.
William : It feels like I lost what I’ve worked my entire life for. I went to school to be a police officer. I’m an African-American male. It’s hard growing up in the inner city and staying out of trouble. My mother raised me right. I work hard to get where I’m at.
Patrick: Today, when you look back at this whole incident, do you still want to be a police officer?
William : No. No, sir.
Al: That’s reporter Patrick Madden of WAMU in Washington D.C. Thanks to him and to The Investigative Reporting Workshop for putting together all the data on this project. They’ve also designed an interactive map where people have been stopped and charged with assaulting a police officer in D.C. over the last three years. Go to our website, RevealNews.org to check it out.
Up next on Reveal, police stops like the ones we’ve been hearing about in D.C. are one of the reasons why more people are grabbing their video cameras and smartphones to record the police. We’ll look at how that’s affecting the relationship between cops and citizens when we come back.
From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Most of the high profile cases of police abuse that we’ve been talking about today have been caught on tape by people who just happened to be walking by, saw something that didn’t look right, and started filming with their cell phones, but there’s also an organized movement of cop watchers who consider their jobs to police the police. They show up at traffic stops, hang out at places with big police presence, and record what the police are doing, then post it online. In places like Texas, tensions are growing, and police are pushing back.
Officer: Back up. You need to back up.
Antonio: How far?
Al: When you start watching these videos, something immediately jumps out.
Officer: [inaudible 00:19:54].
Al: These guys know each other by name.
Officer: [inaudible 00:19:58] you need to back up.
Antonio: How far?
Al: That’s because they are constantly watching each other.
Antonio: We are at a DUI stop. Patrick Oborski is here, and he’s already barking orders at us. We would greatly appreciate if anyone is nearby can videotape this for our safety. Thank you.
Al: Reveal’s Neena Satija picks up our story.
Neena: Antonio Buehler has taken hundreds of videos of Austin police. During the day, he runs his own education consulting business, but most Friday nights, he and his fellow activists drive around the city looking for police activity. I tagged along with them recently to see how it all works.
Antonio: We are basically looking for sirens, we’re looking for police flying by us, just driving around looking for action. It’s in the poorer parts of town, the parts of town that have seen more historic police abuse.
Neena: That night, the group filmed a DUI stop, and a couple of other traffic stops. Antonio calls them non-incidents, but he still posts them online. That’s usually how the night goes, but he’s had his run-ins with the police.
Antonio: Why are you bossing us around, Officer Johnson?
Off. Johnson: I’m not bossing you around. I’m [crosstalk 00:21:03].
Antonio: You are bossing us around.
Neena: Antonio showed me this video. It’s another DUI stop. He and his group started filming about twenty feet away from the police, but officers kept asking them to move.
Antonio: We are now nearly a half football field away from the suspect. Why are you being such a bully?
Off. Johnson: Okay, you’re going to jail.
Antonio: I’m leaving.
Off. Johnson: You’re going to jail.
Antonio: I’m leaving.
Off. Johnson: Do not resist.
Antonio: I was backing up.
Neena: Antonio ended up in jail that night for interfering with public duties, a misdemeanor in Texas. He was never convicted. So far, Antonio’s been arrested four times while filming or taking pictures of cops. He tells me he got into this almost by accident in 2012, and he wasn’t filming; it was caught on a cop’s dashboard camera.
Antonio: I was taking a buddy home from a party. We pulled into a gas station because we were running out of gas.
Female: Don’t touch me. You’re on video.
Officer: That’s good. Come on. You’re done.
Antonio: While we were there, we observed a DWI stop in progress. Things at first looked normal, but then they seemed to get a little bit strange, primarily the focus of the police on the passenger as opposed to the driver.
Female: I’m not [inaudible 00:22:13].
Officer: I see it. Get out of the car.
Antonio: They started twisting her arms behind her back. She was screaming and crying.
Female: Help me, please!
Officer: [inaudible 00:22:21].
Female: Why are you getting me out of the car?
Antonio: They both just hopped out of the car. I walked to the back of the truck and I just started questioning the police officers. Why are you doing that? I think I said, “What the F- are you doing that to a female for?” Something to that effect.
Officer: [inaudible 00:22:36].
Antonio: She was screaming, “Please help me.” At some point she said, “Please record this,” so we both pulled out our cell phones and attempted to take pictures.
Neena: Then, an officer walked up to him. Antonio tells him, “that’s not your job.”
Officer: You don’t know what my job is.
Antonio: I do know what your job is.
Officer: No, you don’t.
Antonio: [inaudible 00:22:55].
Officer: [inaudible 00:22:59].
Neena: Police say Antonio spit on the officer. He says he didn’t. He was arrested for resisting arrest and harassing a public servant, but was eventually cleared. That whole experience led him to start the Peaceful Streets Project in Austin, a group that films cops on a regular basis, and they sometimes get arrested.
The laws dealing with cop watching are fuzzy. Most experts and police agree that everyone has the right to film cops. What people don’t agree on is how close they can get to the action. In the meantime, police and cop watchers are clashing across the country.
Jacob : We’ve got an Oakland cop watch, we’ve got a Ferguson cop watch, we’ve got cop watches everywhere.
Neena: That’s Jacob Crawford, one of the founders of the cop watch movement. He’s also an investigator with the law firm that sues police departments for misconduct and abuse. Lately he’s been traveling the country, training cop watch groups and crowdfunding for cameras. Here in his office in Oakland, California, he empties a box of body cameras onto the couch.
Jacob : Initially we were buying them for forty dollars a piece, and we’ve been getting these ones now for fifteen. They’re small, they can just clip on, the cop can’t say you were reaching for something or pointing something at you, so we’ve been handing out these body cameras en masse. We’ve handed out two hundred in Ferguson and we’re about to buy four hundred more. The goal is, by the end of the year, to have handed out a thousand.
Neena: Activists like Jacob Crawford and Antonio Buehler say police behave differently when they know they’re being filmed. They say police aren’t as aggressive, but police say it’s the cop watchers who can be aggressive.
Wayne : They come up close, they sometimes engage us in conversation, sometimes very mockingly. They stalk police officers from the police station.
Neena: Wayne Vincent was president of the Austin Police Association until the end of last year. He says filming cops is fine, but he has concerns about groups like the Peaceful Streets Project.
Wayne : My biggest nightmare is one of the followers of this group may take violent action against the police when they see the police doing something that they don’t understand.
Neena: In Austin, police are so concerned about what the cop watchers might do, that they’re turning things around them, and the cops are keeping tabs on the cop watchers.
Antonio: I mean there’s just so much stuff.
Neena: That’s Antonio Buehler again. He’s showing me thousands of pages of police emails and documents he got through an open records request.
Antonio: I broke it off. Here’s a grand jury related information. Here’s the information related to my arrest.
Neena: One document sticks out. It’s a power point presentation put together by an Austin police officer. Here’s the title: Criminal Profile of Domestic Extremism in Austin, Texas and the Surrounding Area. Peaceful Streets Project is listed as a threat that could match the FBI’s description of domestic terrorists. Antonio says that’s crazy. There’s never been any violence between Austin cop watchers and police. I showed the power point to Austin Police chief Art Acevedo to get his take.
Do you think that Antonio Buehler or the Peaceful Streets Project are examples of domestic extremism?
Art: No, I don’t think so. I just think that, in terms of Antonio Buehler’s a little bit misguided and a little disingenuous, but absolutely not.
Neena: The chief may say Antonio’s not a threat, but officers have arrested him four times. Remember that video you heard earlier? The one where police kept asking Antonio to move?
Antonio: Why are you being such a bully?
Neena: I showed it to the chief to see what he thought.
Off. Johnson: Do not resist.
Antonio: I’m leaving. I’m backing up.
Art: My response to that, I haven’t read that report, but I can tell you that if an officer tells you to do something, you’re better off complying with it, and then if you have a complaint … He’s got it all on video … Then go through the process. It’s not in the streets where you should be having this debate.
Neena: But Antonio Buehler says that’s exactly where the debate should be happening.
Antonio: I think that we need to change our thinking as to why should I back up? I’m not interfering, I’m exercising my rights. This is our means of trying to hold them accountable, and they get upset with that, and that’s why they come after people who are filming.
Neena: This may seem like a modern movement, born in the age of YouTube and camera phones, but cop watchers say their roots go back to the 1960s and the rise of the Black Panthers, the militant group founded in Oakland, California.
Audio: [singing 00:27:32].
Neena: The Panthers staged marches and political rallies under the banner of protecting the black community from the police. They monitored police calls and would rush to the scene of an arrest, carrying guns and law books.
Huey (Audio): [inaudible 00:27:43] the police, and our community [inaudible 00:27:45] our area, our community of the foreign [coop 00:27:48] occupies territory.
Neena: This is the group’s co-founder, Huey Newton, speaking in a jailhouse interview in 1968.
Huey (Audio): And the police their nonsense when I walked there for our security and our safety but they’re there to contain us, to brutalize us, and murder us.
Neena: But that early era of cop watching didn’t end well. California lawmakers responded by banning the open carry of guns. Later, the FBI launched a campaign to destroy the Panthers. Hundreds of members were arrested or killed in shootouts with police. Most of today’s cop watch groups don’t think it’s a good idea to carry guns while they’re monitoring police, but not all of them.
Cory: Cop watch, April 16th, this is where you’re supposed to be.
Neena: I’m riding with Cory Watkins around Arlington, Texas, just west of Dallas. He and a few other carloads of people are scoping out police activity and staying in touch with a smartphone walkie talkie app called Voxer.
Cory: This is the Voxer chat. Everybody check in. Dan Franklin, [crosstalk 00:28:50], Tony, Pablo, [crosstalk 00:28:54]. Is everybody here?
Male: We are here.
Neena: Cory is thirty-one years old. He’s a tall, skinny, white guy with cropped brown hair. He’s wearing his signature short, narrow-brimmed hat. Propped between us is his loaded AK-47 rifle. It’s legal to openly carry those in Texas. A few of the other cop watchers out that night are also armed, all legally.
Cory: Hey Kenny, don’t forget about that pistol I put in your glove box, just FYI.
Neena: Cory is best known in Texas as a gun rights activist, but lately he’s combined that with cop watching. He calls it open carry cop watch.
Cory: If people want to walk around with guns and film them, this is America. We have that right to do so. It’s protected, and if they feel uncomfortable and they’re afraid, they shouldn’t have that badge on.
Neena: Cory’s had a bunch of run-ins with Arlington police. The department wouldn’t talk to me for this story, but you can get a sense of their concerns from watching videos, like this one, online.
Cory: [inaudible 00:29:54] I’ll show you guys right here. If you try to walk … Hey, if that lady walks, I’m walking too, brother.
Neena: Cory’s walking towards an area that’s been cordoned off by police.
Officer: Whoa, whoa, whoa.
Neena: As he gets closer, they get worried, and he walks right up to an officer. He’s got an antique revolver on his hip, one of the few handguns that’s legal to openly carry in Texas.
Officer: [inaudible 00:30:13] that pistol, dude. Whoa, whoa, dude. Put your hands behind your back for me a second.
Neena: The officer stops Cory and asks about his weapon.
Cory: What reason?
Officer: I don’t know what you have on your hip. I’m trying to find out is this loaded? [inaudible 00:30:25].
Cory: Sir, [crosstalk 00:30:26] I have a camera in my hand with both hands on my camera.
Officer: It doesn’t matter, I’m asking you, is this thing loaded?
Cory: Sir, this is a black powder revolver.
Officer: Is it loaded?
Cory: It wouldn’t matter. It’s not [crosstalk 00:30:37].
Neena: Eventually Cory tells that officer his gun isn’t loaded. Another officer steps into the fray.
Cory: I was walking down the sidewalk with a …
Officer: Exactly, but y’all are here filming us on a police investigation with a weapon on your hip.
Cory: Yes, sir, and I had both hands on my camera.
Officer: That causes safety concerns. Nevertheless, you have a weapon on your hip …
Cory: I told you guys repeatedly that I’m no threat to you.
Officer: Okay, but you’ve got to see it from my point of view. We don’t want somebody walking around with a possible gun on their hip.
Cory: You’re an officer …
Officer: [crosstalk 00:31:05] an investigation.
Frederick : We’re going to have to change the law because of these groups and the position they have put all of our society in.
Neena: This is Frederick Frazier. He works for the Dallas police department as a detective and a lobbyist at the state capitol. Detective Frazier helped draft a bill that would require anyone filming police in Texas to stand at least twenty-five feet away. If they’re carrying a gun, the distance jumps to a hundred feet. There are some exceptions, like for credentialed news media.
Frederick : Distance is our friend, and if you can keep a distance we can do our job. There’s no reason you cannot film from a distance, and get the same results that you wanted in the first place.
Neena: Police groups praised the bill, but it didn’t sit well with many conservative lawmakers. One called it an unconstitutional nightmare, and it was withdrawn before it ever got a public hearing.
This year, seven other states have considered legislation dealing with taping police officers. Most of the bills fall more on the side of the cop watchers, telling cops they can’t harass or intimidate people who are filming them. Police say if those laws are on the books, officers will be afraid to tell a cop watcher to get out of the way, making their jobs a lot harder. Frazier thinks the bill that died in the Texas house this year will come back to life when something bad happens during a cop watch.
Frederick : Somebody’s going to get injured or die from this, and then everybody’s going to say, “What did we do to prevent this?” Then we’re going to go back and go, “We did nothing.”
Neena: Until then, cop watchers will keep watching, and so will police. This was from the same video you heard earlier, where police were arguing with Cory about his gun.
Cory: There’s about three police officers recording, I think they feel threatened because I have a black powder revolver on my side. One officer recording right here. This officer’s recording back there, this one’s recording on his vest.
Neena: Almost everyone in the scene has a camera and a gun. It’s like a weird video standoff, and each side is waiting for the other to do something worth getting on tape.
Al: Neena Satija is a reporter for Reveal and the Texas Tribune. You can read her story at RevealNews.org. Coming up later in the show, the first cop watcher. We speak with George Holiday, the man who filmed the Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King in 1991. We’ll be back in a minute.
From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. You may be getting the idea by now that, for better or for worse, taping police activities is a growth industry. It’s not just people filming police, it’s police filming their own interactions with citizens. The idea of police body cameras really took off after August 2014, when a police officer, Dan Wilson, shot and killed an unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Business analysts like CNBC’s Jim Kramer took note.
Jim Kramer: I would never do anything so crass as to talk to you about how you can use the stock market to profit from that tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri.
Al: But that’s exactly what he’s about to do.
Jim Kramer: I think wearable video cameras could become the new standard for police officers over the next decade or so. They just make too much sense not to be used, especially in the wake of Ferguson. You know who’s the number one maker of wearable cameras for law enforcement? Taser International. TASR.
Al: That’s right, Taser International. The same company that makes stun guns is also in the police body camera business. They provide cameras to three thousand police departments, and the ability to store all the video data that comes with it. Reveal’s Ali Winston and Amy Walters started looking into Taser, it’s close relationship with police departments, and all the unforeseen consequences that come when police where cameras.
Ali: San Diego was one of the first police departments to use body cameras, and now they’re one of the largest, so we went to see how it’s working out.
David: My name is David Shapiro. I’m a San Diego based criminal defense attorney. I’ve been practicing law in the state of California since 2007.
Amy : San Diego police first purchased body cameras almost a year ago, and two CDs of evidence have crossed his desk so far.
David: I basically put in the CD into my computer, and then it starts up eventually. What I get is, I get a list of a couple of folders, usually with each officer’s name on it.
Amy : Body cam evidence is so new, Shapiro’s one of the few defense attorneys we could find who’ve seen the footage at all, and there’s still some times when he doesn’t receive it.
David: I have another case where my client was shot by the police, but there’s no body camera. How great would that have been if we had the body camera? San Diego Police Department, as of February of this year, should have been using body cameras.
Ali: Ever since Ferguson, interest in police body cameras has grown. The public is looking for police accountability, while police are looking for protection. President Obama promised to invest tens of millions of dollars for police body cameras and training. The goal cited on the White House website is to build and sustain trust between communities and those who serve and protect these communities.
Rick : Thank you for joining us today from Taser Headquarters.
Ali: That’s Taser’s CEO, Rick Smith. His goals are a little different. He’s promoting protection for law enforcement.
Rick : Providing a badly needed capability in today’s litigious society to combat false claims.
Ali: Police departments around the world are wearing body cameras sold by Taser International and are storing all the data in the cloud via Taser’s server called Evidence.com. Taser’s strategy has been particularly successful with big, urban police departments like San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. A year ago, Taser sent its first shipment of cameras to San Francisco, and the city’s expected to triple its order; but the city’s public defender, Jeff Adachi, just doesn’t trust Taser to play fair.
Jeff: They don’t have a duty to provide evidence to both sides. What happens if they have evidence and the party they’re contracting with, the police department, doesn’t want to provide it? Are we going to be able to subpoena Taser, and are they going to comply with the subpoena? They’re a company which is driven by profit.
Ali: For those of you still wondering, doesn’t Taser make weapons? Yeah, they do. We were curious how this body camera business came about, so Amy flew up to Evidence.com headquarters in Seattle where she met Abraham Alvarez.
Amy : Abraham, nice to meet you.
He’s been working with taser for six years. What he said was initially pretty surprising. It was Taser’s stun guns that actually spawned the cameras.
Abraham: Naturally, as a result of the weapons, we were in a lot of lawsuits.
Amy : So, Alvarez says, the police wanted legal protection.
Abraham: Agencies came to us asking if there was a way that we can actually record when these incidents were happening, and as a result of that, the company got together and came out with the first generation of the Axon camera system.
Amy : Even then, Taser wasn’t the only company investing in body cameras, but they were the only ones trying to figure out what to do with all of that video evidence.
Abraham: If you do the math, obviously these videos are very large in size, and so a lot of agencies weren’t really prepared to be able to manage these large file systems.
Amy : Enter Evidence.com, owned by Taser and hosted by Amazon web services. Now, instead of being stuck in some dingy evidence room in some police department’s basement, all of this new evidence was launched into the ethereal cloud. Alvarez says it saves police departments money.
Abraham: If you’re one of the large agencies, you can afford to spend a couple of thousand, if not a couple hundred thousand dollars on security every year. We’re spending million plus.
Amy : Even some of the most secure organizations in the world get hacked occasionally. What happens when that happens to you?
Abraham: I think it’s in everybody’s best interest, especially ours, that that doesn’t happen to us. That’s why we take security so, so seriously here at Evidence.com and Taser. The day that we get hacked is basically the day that our service stops.
Amy : That security breach hasn’t happened yet, but Taser has been getting into some other trouble. Police chiefs from Fort Worth, Texas; Salt lake City, Utah; and Albuquerque, New Mexico have been accused of taking Taser sponsored trips and Taser gifts. New Mexico’s auditor investigated Albuquerque’s police chief Ray Schultz. Just recently he released an email from Schultz to Taser from 2013. This is what he wrote.
Ali: Everything has been greased, so it should go without any issues.
Amy : Taser’s response?
Ali: Thanks for all the support and vision pushing PVRs.
Amy : Those are Taser’s lapel cameras.
Ali: It is the future of LE.
Amy : Law enforcement. Schultz then traveled to Australia and the Netherlands on Taser’s dime as a consultant less than a year after he retired. Taser’s spokesperson Sydney Siegmeth says the trip sponsoring part is actually pretty normal, or at least it was.
Sydney: If we’re asking somebody to come speak at an event, we will cover lodging, airfare … Those are pretty standard practice if you’re asking them to come speak at a trade show or an event.
Ali: The same day New Mexico’s auditor filed his report, Taser told us they had implemented a new policy for former law enforcement personnel. Taser will now wait at least a year before hiring anyone who leaves the force, but they’ll honor agreements already in place.
It’s a brave new world of digital data outsourcing. Police and politicians are making it up as they go. In the San Francisco Bay area, some police departments release body camera video to the public. In San Diego, they don’t. Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.
Shelley: Our policy is that we don’t release it. We do get California public records requests. We get requests form the media. Requests from community members to release video. We don’t do that.
Ali: What section, under the California Public Records Act, do you use for the exemption?
Shelley: This is a piece of evidence.
Ali: Again, this is new, and yet to be legally challenged, but as far as Taser is concerned, their company and Evidence.com, are off the hook.
Sydney: We don’t own the data. It’s not our evidence.
Ali: Again, Taser’s Sydney Siegmeth.
Sydney: They’re licensing our software. We don’t see it, we don’t touch it. It’s their data, it’s their evidence. If they have a legal question, they would get the question about accessing that, not us.
Ali: So, you have some police departments hiring Evidence.com to handle their video footage, some are going with competitors, while others have decided to handle all that data on their own.
Amy : Which takes us to the Seattle Police Department. They’re still in the bidding process and haven’t decided which bodycam company to go with, but in the meantime, their managing all the video footage, and so far, they’ve hired one guy to help them out.
Tim: A few years ago I wanted to be a paramedic. [crosstalk 00:42:24].
Amy : Tim Clemmons. He spends a lot of time on computers. He didn’t have a job and was living in his parent’s basement when his dream of becoming a paramedic had him hunting down emergency vehicle video in Washington state.
Tim: Basically, I just tried to get a list of agencies that had dash or body cameras, and I filed requests individually that said please upload all your videos to YouTube.
Mike: There we have this guy, this anonymous requester come along, and request all of our in car video.
Amy : That’s the Seattle PD’s chief operating officer Mike Wagers.
Mike: Three hundred sixty terabytes plus the data. That freaked everybody out.
Amy : Under Washington state law, the Seattle police have to hand over that evidence to the public, but they also have to protect the identities of the people they film.
Mike: It’s a very manual, labor intensive process, so there’s no way somebody could sit through 1.7 million videos and do it.
Amy : Seattle had a hack-a-thon to come up with a program that would do the redaction work automatically. Guess who won.
Tim: Seattle police got a hold of me, did this wonderful hack-a-thon, and really started to demonstrate that there are technological solutions here.
Amy : Tim Clemmons. But the system he created isn’t perfect. It blurs the entire image and strips out all the audio. Seattle could still end up going with a private company. It’s the same decision police departments across the country are facing, and that concerns people like San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi.
Jeff: That company not only is going to have access to those records, but is going to have the power to start looking at patterns, other information, who’s been convicted, who’s been arrested and charged with a crime with the evidences against them. Do you want that information in the hands of a private company? No way.
Amy : This idea of body cameras as this big solution to keep closer tabs on the police, to rebuild relationships with the public, could actually be the beginning of a whole new set of problems.
Al: Reveal’s Amy Walters and Ali Winston brought us that story. While storing video in the cloud and cop cameras are relatively new, filming police has a long history. In our next story, we’re going to visit the scene of one of the most infamous police videos ever made.
If you pass the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street in Los Angeles, you’d never know anything important, anything big, ever happened here. There are no plaques or memorials, no tourist buses, but twenty-four years ago, this was the scene of an extraordinary event.
It was late in the evening in March. A white Hyundai sped down the I-210, trying to outrun the police. The car went from the interstate into residential areas, gaining a growing fleet of squad cars in pursuit, and the chase ended here. The mostly white police officers ordered the driver and two passengers, all young African-American men, out of the car. Then, they beat the driver brutally. They later claimed that he had lunged at them. The man suffered more than a dozen broken bones, a fractured skull, and permanent nerve damage to his face. Afterwards, the cops cracked jokes about the incident.
The beating of Rodney King was one of the most famous acts of police violence in modern American history. The grainy video of King’s beating, that’s what we’re hearing, is iconic and disgusting. All this hour, we’ve been talking about people videotaping the police. The videos themselves have started a whole movement to reform police departments across the country, and this corner of Los Angeles is where it all started. The first cop watching video that made it to prime time; but the man who shot it isn’t really like the activists today. He’s no cop watcher. He’s a plumber, and it all happened by accident.
George: That’s the balcony right there, where I filmed it.
Male: So it happened right there?
George: It happened right here.
Al: George Holiday is a big bearded guy. He’s wearing work clothes, and a thick crucifix hangs around his neck. He hasn’t spoken to the press in years. When the beating took place, he was living here, with his then wife, in his second floor apartment.
Male: You just got this video camera. You were just testing it out, right?
George: Yeah, we had just gotten it about two weeks earlier. It was actually a gift to my wife at the time for Valentine’s.
Al: On the night of March 3rd, 1991, loud noises woke Holiday and his wife.
George: There was a helicopter real low circling right here, and all the police cars had just pulled up right there, right across the street from us. They had their sirens on. It was just loud, and so I ran out and we looked out the window, and we saw the commotion going on, and my first thought was, “Wow, something cool to film.”
Male: What was your thoughts while you were watching it happen?
George: I wasn’t sure. You see, I come from Argentina. Things are different over there. I went through a couple of military coups while I lived there. You know, you’d get pulled over by a police officer, you just give them a little bribe, and then you go. It’s not the same as it was here, so in my mind I was thinking, wow, I wonder what he did to deserve this.
Al: In the video, lights from the police cars and the chopper illuminate the darkened street. Holiday shot about twelve minutes of tape. In just eighty-one seconds, the officers pound King more than fifty times with heavy batons. The police yell at King, taunting him, while neighbors shout at the cops to stop.
Male: You shot the video, but you didn’t really now what you had at that point, did you?
George: No, I didn’t know.
Al: But he knew something had happened, so the next day, he tried to get more information.
George: The first phone call that I made that Monday morning to the local police department. They didn’t even give me a chance to say I had a tape or anything. They said, “Oh, we just don’t give out any information.” Hung up right away.
Al: After the cops hung up, Holiday reached out to the media. He called CNN’s LA Bureau. No answer. Finally, a local station, KTLA, took a look at his video.
George: It wasn’t that big of a deal to them. It was big enough to send a reporter, but not that big that they would start the news with it. Look what happened kind of thing. It wasn’t until 10:15 or so that it finally got on the news.
Al: Then the networks jumped on the story.
Video: Now the story that might never have surfaced if someone hadn’t picked up his home video camera.
Al: News trucks crowded the parking lot outside of his apartment, but over time, Holiday became uncomfortable with all the attention, and stopped giving interviews. He’s angry that TV stations were using his video without paying him a dime, and he was tired of talking over and over about King’s beating.
George: They were asking me the exact same questions that I’m being asked right now, twenty-five years later.
Al: In talking with Holiday, the thing that stands out to me the most is how different he is from this new generation of cop watchers. He didn’t really have an agenda. He basically stumbled into history. He sees the beating of Rodney King as a problem involving some bad cops. The police he knew, the ones he typically encountered, they were professionals. He liked them, and he thinks that some of the cop watchers today are only looking at one side of the issue.
George: I think the citizens, some citizens, and the media, are baiting the police, looking for these kind of things. Let’s approach this with a bit more love. Let’s show the good as well as the bad.
Al: The Rodney King saga got a lot worse before it got better.
Video: A lot of anger down here. Those demonstrators you saw [crosstalk 00:50:06].
Al: After three police officers involved in King’s beating were acquitted, Los Angeles exploded in protest and violence.
Video: There are one, two, three, four, five at least six fire units on the scene, and [crosstalk 00:50:19].
Al: More than sixty people died, and whole neighborhoods were torched. But in the bad, we can find the good if we do the work. Rodney King’s beating and the video, and the ensuing rebellion, spurred a massive overhaul of the Los Angeles Police Department. It took a long time, but it happened. Even some of the biggest critics agree that the LAPD today is more accountable, respected, and diverse.
Male: You changed Los Angeles with that video. There’s got to be a strange feeling seeing all that, both good and bad, right?
George: At this point, it’s a shame that people get where a doctor doesn’t get impressed anymore by seeing all this blood and stuff. He’s used to it. I’ve heard it so many times now that I’m sort of used to it, and it’s a shame, but I’m not the one that caused the riots, or caused all these things that these people are saying. I filmed the tape, but I don’t see myself as the one that’s … You know what I’m saying?
Male: Yeah. There’s something about being a witness to history that’s just as important as being the history, right?
Male: Because without that documentation, we would probably be living in a very different world.
George: I agree.
Al: Rodney King died in 2012. It’s sort of remarkable, given all the notoriety, that the two men never really talked about that fateful night. Holiday says they only spoke once at a gas station, totally by chance.
George: The only times I had seen him were on the news reports where there were pictures of him with a swollen face and bloody eye and stuff, and just the pictures of when he was admitted to the hospital. I had left work one night about 10:00 at night and stopped at a gas station. This guy from across the gas station calls me. “Hey, George,” and I look over. I don’t know who you are. He said, “No, George,” and he motions for me to come over, so I get closer to him and he says, “I just want to thank you,” and shook my hand, and he says, “You saved my life.” Then I realized, oh, I know who you are now.
Al: That concludes our two part series Law and Disorder. If you missed the first part, you can always check it out on iTunes. If you want to talk to us about one of our stories, you can reach out to us on Facebook or on Twitter, or visit RevealNews.org.
Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.