Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Police v Photography: Dallas suburb edition

Peacenik activists in Austin aren't the only Texans getting in trouble for shooting or publishing photographs of police. A Dallas News story by Kevin Krause last week ("Mesquite woman arrested after posting undercover cop's photo on Facebook," Oct. 12) opened:
Police often use social media sites like Facebook as an investigative tool to learn more about criminals and their crimes.

But as one recent Mesquite police case illustrates, sometimes the same tactics can be used to seek revenge against investigators.

Melissa Walthall, 30, of Mesquite was arrested Monday by Mesquite police and charged with retaliation, a felony, for posting a photo of one of the department’s undercover officers on her Facebook page.
Notably, reported Krause, "Law enforcement associations say the only way to truly be anonymous is not to have social media accounts. But many police departments are behind in developing social media policies and guidelines for their officers." Carlos Miller at Photography is Not a Crime argues argues that outing an undercover officer isn't necessarily retaliation under the law.

And since we're on the subject of Police v. Photography, also via Photography is Not a Crime, "Police in Texas shot an unarmed man 41 times, then turned around and confiscated another man’s camera after he started taking photos and shooting video of the bloody aftermath." The underlying story out of Garland, also via the Dallas Morning News ("Witnesses to end of chase where Garland officer fired 41 shots say police deleted cell phone photos, video," Sept. 11) subscription required) declared that,
A Garland police officer is on restricted duty after authorities say he fired as many as 41 shots at an apparently unarmed man last month, killing him.

Garland police also said Tuesday that dash-cam video revealed that Officer Patrick Tuter crashed his squad car into a truck driven by the suspect, Michael Vincent Allen, before the shooting started. Initial reports had said Allen had hit Tuter’s car, prompting the officer to open fire.
According to the News, next door neighbor Mitchell "Wallace took cellphone pictures and video after the shooting stopped, but he said Mesquite police confiscated the phone and deleted the video and pictures. The phone was returned four days later, he said." Deleting the video (read: evidence) may or may not be illegal, but it's certainly bad form.

The good folks at the Austin Peaceful Streets Project have been pushing for the City of Austin to enact a more forceful policy - perhaps modeled after the one adopted (pdf) by the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police - to protect the rights of public photographers in just these situations. That sort of policy would have also protected Mr. Wallace, providing guidance to both citizens and officers about what's allowed.

If local governments are going to keep arresting photographers or seizing their cameras, given the rise of cell phone cameras and other such common devices, perhaps it's time to proactively enshrine the right of the citizenry to photograph police into state law, adopting key provisions from the Washington D.C. policy and federal best practices to restrict when police can seize cell phones and cameras, much less delete evidence taken at an alleged crime scene, as reportedly happened in Garland. It'd be great if local PDs could be relied upon to enact and enforce reasonable local policies on this question, but so far, that's not what's happening.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

As cheap as video capability has gotten everyone should have $300 dual cam and microphones installed in their car to dispute bad stops and document accidents. Your cell phone can download a program that allows you to transmit its video to the internet in case police confiscate the camera or SD card. So if the police try to dispose of your personal dashcam video and you are are to record them dong it on your cell phone you will have the goods to nail him. Check out Veterans Against Police Abuse for some ideas on documenting these abuses.

Anonymous said...

We often receive threats from law enforcement regarding our Facebook page and the documentation of the child sex crimes that we do.

Supposedly we were to be served with lawsuits several times for posting photos of police officer/ pedophiles we copied from the Facebook pages of the officers involved. To date, we have yet to hear from any attorneys representing cop-pedophiles.

As far as we're concerned, if anyone has photos of the 10,000+ pedophile-police that we have profiled on our Facebook pages please let us know and we'll gladly post them.

We could care less if they are undercover or not. Especially if they're from the public domain and social sites like Facebook. Our attorney has assured us this is a free-speech issue and he'll defend our rights to the very end.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tribute-to-survivors-of-child-sexual-assault-by-law-enforcement-officers/180584842010594?sk=wall

doran said...

The retaliation statute, Section 36.06 of the Texas Penal Code, provides that "A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly harms or threatens to harm another by an unlawful act...in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of another as a... public servant...or informant...."

The mere posting of the Leo's photo on a Facebook page is not an unlawful act, so even if the undercover Leo was "harmed" [in some tortured meaning of the word] by the posting, there was no retaliation.

The newspaper article does not include any facts which indicate that the person who posted the photo used language which could be construed as threatening. That language may have been there, but we don't know that for certain. In the absence of language threatening to harm the Leo by an unlawful act, there would be no retaliation.

Heywood Jablowmy said...

I am going to protest this Mesquite action by following offiers home from work and then take their photos and photos of their property and cars and then posting them online. There is no expectation of privacy when you are outside. I hope the cops get mad and arrest me as I could use a million dollars I'd get from a lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

good reason to put a password on your phone. just don't use 1234 or your dob.

Anonymous said...

“But many police departments are behind in developing social media policies and guidelines for their officers."
Yes, some of today’s generation have no common sense so they must be directed by a freaking written policy. Government agencies are so rule bound now they are choking.
“Deleting the video (read: evidence) may or may not be illegal, but it's certainly bad form.”
37.09 (d) Texas Penal Code……A person commits an offense if the person:(1) knowing that an offense has been committed, alters, destroys, or conceals any record, document, or thing with intent to impair its verity, legibility, or availability as evidence in any subsequent investigation of or official proceeding related to the offense.

Anonymous said...

Use an app called QIK which allows you to record video to the web in real time which renders deleting your video from your phone a moot issue.

rodsmith said...

These records just need to adopt the same rules i use.

If i'm not breaking the law and you put your hands on me. I will probably BREAK you. I'm not really going to worry about what silly constume your wearing at the time.

This rule is especialy apt in cases like this where even the United States Attorney General has said the action is legal and NOT a crime and so has the UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT.

So in my book once they touch you they are no longer operating within the law therefore the protections afforded a govt agent against any response even a violent one is gone.

So at that point break their ass in half and move on.

If your really really pissed at that time you can then go after the fucktard govt stooge ...their boss who is covering for thier asses.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, the DMN had a piece on this where the chief stated that there was no deletion. If it ends up being shown that they did, then he is just as guilty as the murdering, lying, thief that took it in the first place to hide a crime. (Anyone have the full definition of Conspiracy lying around?)Thanks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

The National Film / Record / Sketch a Public Servant Day (not just LEOs) is now being celebrated on a 24/7, 365 day basis. (Once Canada & Mexico are on board we’ll present the North American version).

From a safe distance use your zoom and shoot from the hip to capture; the Good, the Bad & the Ugly. Hint, the Good will pose and sign autographs and as we’ve witnessed the Bad & Ugly doing what they’ve been trained to do – will thwart your endeavors. Remember it's 2012 & they are rightfully recording as well. *There's a Contest in there somewhere. Be safe. Thanks.