Home BRIEF Filming the police is legal, but that doesn’t stop them from arresting...

Filming the police is legal, but that doesn’t stop them from arresting people for it

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An image of an arrest from video taken by Anthony Holbrook
Transcript

Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose, holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. To do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops, but try to dig deeper and expose the underlying system that makes bad policing possible.

Today, we have an important update that speaks exactly to our purpose, another questionable arrest by police solely for the act of filming them. A set of charges with troubling ties to questionable case that we have already reported about on this show and we will examine how police and law enforcement monetize the people they arrest, charge and otherwise incarcerate them, so they can pay their own salaries. But before I get started, I need to ask for your support.

Remember, we can’t do this type of work without you, so please, if you can, hit the donate link below and I want you to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please email it to us privately at par@therealnews.com or reach out to me and message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter and Facebook. Of course, please like, share and comment on our videos.

Okay. We’ve got that out of the way. Now, as many of you recall, just a few weeks ago, we reported on the arrest and beating of Nick Pettit by Columbus, Ohio police. Pettit was filming police on his own porch when he caught them striking a juvenile. Pettit spoke up and police attacked. Let’s watch.

[VIDEO CLIP]

Nick Pettit: Hey, you weren’t supposed to smack him in the face. What the fuck is wrong with you?

Speaker 1: Go back to your house.

Nick Pettit: Hell no, man. I’m on my property. I ain’t got to listen to you.

Speaker 1: [crosstalk 00:01:49] Get in the house. Go in the house.

Speaker 2: Go inside.

Speaker 1: Get in the house. Go on inside.

Nick Pettit: Hey, look, I got you all on camera right now. I’m on my private property.

Speaker 2: [crosstalk 00:02:01] You’re under arrest.

Nick Pettit: For what?

Speaker 1: Come on.

Nick Pettit: I didn’t even do nothing except record this whole situation. What are you doing?

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham: Last month, Pettit and the ACLU filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging the arrest was illegal and violated his constitutional rights. But one intriguing aspect of the case was the law used to charge Pettit for his alleged transgression. It’s an obscure statute called Misconduct During an Emergency, a nebulous infraction that even after some extensive research seemed designed to allow police flexibility to arrest people for behavior they find, for lack of a better word, annoying.

But just this week, another viewer in Ohio contacted us with startling information. Anthony Holbrook was also arrested for filming cops on his own property, and he too was charged with the vaguely worded Misconduct During an Emergency.

For more on this arrest and what the video shows I’m joined by my reporting partner, Stephen Janis. Stephen, thank you for joining me.

Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham: Stephen, give me some overview on this video and his arrest. What does it show and what are we looking at?

Stephen Janis: What’s interesting about this video is that you see initially police handle a situation that could have been potentially dangerous quite well. They are able to stop a man who has a fake gun and is threatening people. So they get that done pretty effectively. What’s weird at the end of the video, after this is all over, they start to harass this man and ask him for information which he doesn’t want to provide and then turn it into arrest.

[VIDEO CLIP]

Speaker: You don’t have to give us any statements but you have to identify yourself.

Anthony Holbrook: I wish to remain silent at this time.

Speaker: Is that your final answer?

Anthony Holbrook: Yeah.

Speaker: [crosstalk 00:03:42], okay. Put your hands behind your back.

Anthony Holbrook: Wow.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Stephen Janis: So really the video is kind of troubling because at that point, everything was over and there was no reason really to engage this man.

Taya Graham: Now, you’ve looked into this law. What does it actually say?

Stephen Janis: Well, what it says is that you can’t interfere with either a police officer or an EMT or a firefighter on the scene of an accident, but what’s interesting about it and it doesn’t really define interference, but it also says that you have to obey a lawful order. So it’s really kind of very vague and then of course it has one exception for the media.

So I think this would classify as a media kind of situation because it’s the only place where you don’t really have to abide by the law in that situation, where you can’t be subject to arrest. So really the law contradicts what happened.

Taya Graham: So the reason police initially gave for his arrest was that he had refused to show them his ID. Is that legal?

Stephen Janis: Well, it’s a really interesting question. There is no federal law that says you have to identify yourself to a police officer. However, in Ohio, if you are witness to a felony, you’re supposed to be give identification. The question would be here, was he really a witness to a felony? Was he the only witness or was this more about the fact that he was filming police?

And I think that’s a crucial question as to his arrest, because to me it seems like they’re more interested in the fact that he was filming police, given that the fact that this occurred in front of multiple people and it really wasn’t a question of what had happened. So I think the fact that he was filming gave him some protection there.

I think it’s very troubling that police would use this law once again to get someone who was filming police and who were just really exercising their First Amendment rights.

Taya Graham: And now to get more details on the video and the consequences of yet another questionable arrest I’m joined by Anthony Holbrook. Anthony, thank you so much for joining me.

Anthony Holbrook: Thank you for having me.

Taya Graham: So first I want to ask you to describe the events preceding your arrest. What were the cops doing in your neighborhood?

Anthony Holbrook: They were dealing with a guy who had apparently been drunk and arguing with an ex-girlfriend and his step-son.

I made sure I stayed away in my own driveway, tried to not communicate with the police. After it was all done they started asking everybody for their IDs and of course they got to me and I politely just declined so one guy, cop, sergeant, I’m not sure, he snapped his fingers and the two cops arrested me and charged me with obstruction, but I didn’t understand it because they had first told me I’m not in any trouble. They don’t need a statement. All they needed was my name, but before they even got the handcuffs on, they smacked my phone out of my hand and shut it off.

I heard my plates and my name, my date of birth come over their radio. So they was already running tags before I answered any questions.

Taya Graham: So after the police had arrested the man, they asked you for ID and you refused. Can you talk about why?

Anthony Holbrook: Well, there were several things running through my head of why I did want [inaudible 00:07:01] the police. There’s been some scary stories that I’ve heard that police get your information, that is sold sometimes to third parties. But my main reason is, and I know this is weird, but the very first time I reported the police, they threatened me, made me give them my name and a couple months later I went to PeopleFinders and now I noticed on PeopleFinders that I am supposedly a suspect of being organized with a terrorist group.

So that freaked me out when I seen that. So that’s why I didn’t want to give my name. I have heard of people reporting police and when they give their name, sometimes these cops will put them in a database or something like that and they’ll end up on a terrorist watch-list simply for reporting police.

So I was scared. I didn’t want to give my name because I didn’t have anything to do with it.

Taya Graham: I think it’s worth noting you were talking to Stephen before this interview about a pivotal moment prior to these arrests, when you became distrustful of police. Can you tell us about what happened?

Anthony Holbrook: Back in 2015 I think, I was in college. After school I would drop my aunt and uncle off at their house and for no apparent reason I was pulled over by the Brady Lake police and they pulled us all out of the car. Wouldn’t tell me why and then searched my whole car without asking me for my permission and said I was free to go.

I asked them why and they said because I was in a high-crime area. So that irritated. So that’s when I began to look into my constitutional rights because I was mad that they just abused their power and that’s when I started looking into my rights and started reporting police when I could.

Taya Graham: So Anthony, what happened after you were arrested? How long were you in jail and what did prosecutors do with the case?

Anthony Holbrook: Once they put me in the back of the police car, I started having anxiety. I started coughing. They must have assumed that I was sick and COVID had just came really big. So they put me in a cell and treated me like I had a bad disease.

They refused to give me any of my medications. The next morning, this was around 9:00 at night, maybe 9:30, the next morning, around 8:30, 9:00 in the morning. I see the judge, I got a PR bond, but they wouldn’t let me out till around 4:00 that evening and then I noticed on my paperwork that the only reason they’re claiming that I didn’t see the judge until 3:00 or 3:20 in the evening and that’s why it took so long to release.

Within six months, it was dismissed. I had to go all the way to trial. I had a public defender who I asked to get the body cam footage or the dash cam footage, try to find out why I was not only charged with obstruction, but misconduct at an emergency and he said there was no video and there was no dash cam and that the case was dismissed at the trial date.

Taya Graham: How has this affected you? What have been the consequences for you? Whether emotional or financial?

Anthony Holbrook: Recently, I’m having trouble getting a place to live, an apartment for my daughter and I because of these charges. And I’ve noticed that when I see cops get behind me while I’m driving, I get real bad anxiety and it wasn’t so bad until they arrested me for in my opinion, no reason that night.

Taya Graham: So Anthony, what would you need to make you whole, or what would you want see happen to restore your trust in law enforcement?

Anthony Holbrook: I don’t know if an apology would really do it because in the past, a couple of years ago, the cops threatened me just for recording them, threatened to blow me up. That if I was in Afghanistan and I was reporting them, they would blow me up like they did someone else.

So it’s a little scary. I’ll put it this way. After the incident, it seemed like every time I was outside throwing the football back and forth with my daughter or brother-in-law, the sheriffs were always driving by at least once a day. I don’t know if it was me being paranoid. I don’t know, but I would just like to see a change.

Taya Graham: Now, as we always try to do on the show, I want to connect the dots in Anthony’s story to a larger problem with law enforcement today. That is to try to provide some context on why the seemingly needless arrest of one man is critical to understanding the broader problems with American policing that we are all faced with today.

And to do so, I want to take a look at a recent New York Times op-ed that examines how the monetization of law enforcement has turned America into a vast land of debtor’s prisons.

Now, before I explain the premise of the article, just a little historical side note, imprisoning someone for an unpaid debt was actually something our country used to frown upon. In fact, it was considered to be such a destructive idea. Then in 1867, the Anti-Peonage Act was passed by Congress to prevent involuntary servitude for debt and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was used by federal, district and supreme court justices to protect Americans from being imprisoned for court-related fines and fees.

But as the article points out, that initial historical hesitancy has been discarded and the practice has become more commonplace, even ubiquitous. In fact, according to the article, The New Debt Prisons by Gene Sperling, the state of Texas imprisons over 500,000 people for unpaid debts. That’s just in the state of Texas alone. But these aren’t just people who failed to pay a credit card bill, or just decide to skip out on their monthly car note.

No, these scofflaws end up behind bars because, wait for it, they have not paid court fines, probation fees, and even bills for being in jail in the first place. In other words, as states across the country, continue to impose fines and fees to people entangled in our criminal justice system, people who can’t pay sometimes find themselves locked away again.

The problem has become so acute in so many communities that Sperling says our country has become quote, “A punitive debt trap for millions of low income Americans, essentially a debtor’s prison writ large”. But of course it is why cities and states have been raising these fees that is even more troubling.

According to the article, the main reason fees have become so prohibitive is because they’re used to fund the same cops and courts that impose them. That’s right. As I said before, police and law enforcement monetize the people they arrest, charge and otherwise incarcerate so they can pay their own salary.

So how could that go wrong? I mean, think about it. A system predicated on financializing criminal justice is basically a solution in search of a problem. A cop who knows his or her generous salary and pricey benefits are based on how many people end up in handcuffs is going to find as many ways to slap them on as many wrists as possible. A prosecutor or judge who knows court fees and criminal fines will pay for a cushy pension or lavish health benefits is surely going to search for as many ways to impose them as they can.

The point is how can we trust a criminal justice system predicated upon profit? How can we literally trust a system that is using force and the threat of imprisonment to extract cash from the people it’s supposed to protect?

I’m not sure what you call it, but it sounds like racketeering to me with a bit of communal extortion on the side. The worst part is that this power over our collective purse has no natural checks or balances.

As we’ve seen again and again on this show, once a bad arrest is made, there are no repercussions for the officer or the department that allowed it. There are no charges or investigations into bad police behavior. Instead, even bad arrests end up a win for police with victims forced to pay court costs, lawyer fees and fines that accumulate usury interest if they aren’t paid off immediately.

The point is we can’t have a criminal justice system that operates on the imperative of profit. Funding policing by the monetization of criminality takes the worst aspects of capitalism and the fascist impulses of a society obsessed with punishment and creates an anti-democratic stew so toxic, it could kill even the healthiest democracy.

That’s why stories like the arrest of Anthony Holbrook must be told, and that’s why we won’t stop telling them.

I would like to thank my guest Anthony Holbrook for joining me today. Anthony, thank you so much for your time.

Anthony Holbrook: I was nervous, thank you.

Taya Graham: And of course I would like to thank intrepid reporter, Stephen Janis for his editing, writing and reporting on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.

Stephen Janis: Okay, Taya. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham: And of course I want to thank friend of the show Noli Dee, thanks, Noli Dee. And I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please reach out to us and we might be able to investigate for you. Please reach out. You can email us tips privately @parattherealnews.com and share your evidence of police misconduct.

You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course you can message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook, and please like, share and comment.

I do read your comments and I appreciate them. My name is Taya Graham and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe.

Yet another arrest of a man recording police raises vexing questions about an obscure Ohio law that gives law enforcement almost unfettered power to detain and charge bystanders. PAR investigates how this statute may have been abused during a tense standoff, and the implications for citizen journalists who seek to record police.

Tune in every Thursday at 9:00 p.m. EST for new episodes of the Police Accountability Report.

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