Man Threatens Cops with Lawsuit for Right to Video Tape Them

An Oregon man is threatening to sue the city to determine if “civilians” have the right to video tape police officers on the job while in public. Good for him I say. Here is what happened,

The videotaping incident that netted Tabor a ticket unfolded when Tabor spotted officers Dane Reister and Nicholas Ragona stopping two men on March 25 next to the Portland Art Museum. On the nine-minute video, one of the officers can be heard accusing one man of being a drug dealer and the other a drug buyer. He repeatedly asks one of the men for his ID and to allow himself to be patted down. At one point, the officer -identified by Tabor as Reister -tells the man to back away. And when the man takes a step back, Reister takes two or three steps forward and shoves the man in the chest.

“That bugged me,” said Tabor. “It really looked like intimidation – bully-type stuff.”

After patting the man down, the officers let both men go. Then Reister walks over to Tabor, asks him if the camera was also recording sound, and when Tabor says yes, tells Tabor to hand over the camera.

“I was just totally surprised,” Tabor said.

Tabor began to walk to Central Precinct to file a complaint. The officers pulled up in their patrol car and asked what he was doing and then said they’d meet him in the lobby.

Tabor claims that after waiting about 20 minutes, the officers returned his camera and handed him a ticket. Tabor said the officers told him he was standing too close and making them nervous in what could have been a dangerous situation.

The police usually point to ORS 165.540 which prohibits the recording of convesations between people when those people expect their conversation to be private. There is only one problem for the police, when you are in public your expectations of privacy are seriously diminished.* Further, police officers work in a public capacity not a private one. When a police officer is arresting someone on a public street the expectation of privacy is greatly reduced for both the person being arrested and for the police.

And then there is this,

In 1991, then-police chief Tom Potter issued a training bulletin stating that the public had the right to record video and audio of police arresting suspects in a public place. Woboril, Schmautz and Police Chief Rosie Sizer weren’t aware of the bulletin, but Tabor’s attorney, Haile, dug up it up in his research.

Haile said he wants the bureau to specify that police stops — not just arrests — can be recorded. He also wants the policy put in the bureau’s policy and procedures manual, so it won’t be forgotten.

That “civilians” can videotape police officers while on the job in public is a good idea in that it is another incentive for officers not to abuse their authority. Start pushing someone around and roughing them up and you might find yourself on the evening news, then getting fired, then getting sued. This is a good thing, but I can see why cops wouldn’t like it. It puts some power back in the hands of “civilians”. Cops don’t like this. Funny, considering that that is precisely where power is ultimately supposed to rest in this country. Of the people, by the people and for the people…I guess for cops flunking high school government class is mandantory.

Link via Radley Balko.
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*Now, I am not a lawyer, but that is my general understanding of the law.

FILED UNDER: Government, Law and the Courts, US Politics
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    An expectation of privacy? While on a public street? Well, that’s an interesting claim.

    Steve, the underlying problem is one of incentives. There are a variety of laws, regulations, and contracts that shield individual policemen from prosecution. If you sue and win, nothing happens to the individual cop, the city i.e. the taxpayer is on the hook.

    I understand the necessity for such protections. Without them every police officer would continually be in court merely for performing his or her duty. In my view the problem is when the officer exceeds his or her duty, going beyond the law or stated policy is clearly going beyond duty, and there should be some recourse as a deterrent against abuse of authority.

  2. Wayne says:

    If the police can use video tapes then the public should be able to also. However if the video tape is use in court it should be done in it’s entirely. If it appears to be edited it then it shouldn’t be used. Also news agencies should be responsible in airing such tapes using basically the same standard mention above.

  3. Bystander says:

    Nice thought-provoking journalistic piece until that last line. Men and women in blue are putting their lives on the line for us every day … I think you should holster your cynical ‘wide brush’ before you obliterate the deserved respect and gratitude to the greater law enforcement community.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    I’m going to toss in a word about that last line.

    The average policeman would respect the constitution and the citizens if trained properly. This is a top down problem.

    Police are trained to harass and bully people. They are trained to use vocal and physical intimidation techniques to control citizens in almost all situations. Even when communicating with a police officer about issues over the phone or online they will often use these techniques.

    So the average cop may know the constitution but it is quickly pushed aside during training.

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    Nice thought-provoking journalistic piece until that last line. Men and women in blue are putting their lives on the line for us every day … I think you should holster your cynical ‘wide brush’ before you obliterate the deserved respect and gratitude to the greater law enforcement community.

    I used to think like this. Then I spent several days reading about “Law Enforcement Officers” and how they treat “Civilians” over at Radley Balko’s website. Yes, those are the terms “LEOs” use. They are seperate from us…even above us on the food chain. We have the problems with wrong door raids and almost total unaccountability. The arresting of people who video tape, photograph or make record of what the police are doing while supposedly serving us. The increasing use of paramilitary tactics and military grade hardware. There is one town that has an armored personnel carrier with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on it. There is the asymmetrical treatment of “civilians” and “LEOs” before the courts. A cop shoots someone due to incompetence they get a slap on the wrist. A “civilian” does it and they get the book thrown at them. And to top off this sh*t sundae with a cherry on top of it, we have that “thin blue line mentality” where the good cops doen’t rat out the bad cops becuase they are in some sort of special brotherhood and have to stick up for each other at the expense of “civilians”. All-in-all extremely depressing reading. A friend of mine simply stopped reading Radley’s site…too depressing for him. Me…its like picking at a scab, I can’t seem to stop reading about the abuses, and the “good” cops that act as enablers.

    This doesn’t touch on such things as the war on drugs, the abuse of the judicial system such as the Dr. Hayne case(s) Balko has covered, and so forth. Even James, our fearless leader here at OTB, has noted that it is becoming increasingly the case that people are starting to view the police as a necessary evil.

    Please note, I think this is all very bad.

    Oh and Dave, standard police procedure during a no-knock raid: shoot the dogs. Even the ones running away from the cops. Nice eh?

  6. Chris says:

    Steve,

    Your statement is the broadest of generalized points that serve any argument poorly.

    I am a law enforcement official and I have a few points as well:

    1. The average cop, the below average cop and the extraordinary cop in all of the agencies I have been privileged to work with are all trained in the same understanding of constitutional rights and our duty to protect those rights while enforcing the law. Just like everyone else, there are officers that fall short; they can’t all be found and fired or prosecuted b/c police agencies are human (and fallible) agencies.

    2. I am not aware of any agency that trains to “bully” or “intimidate”; we are trained to control situations because we are authorized to use deadly force in specific situations. Loss of control in a situation increases the chance of deadly force having to be used.

    3. The use of video is fine (just like anything else) to a point and with criminal remedies available. The citizen may make a video/sound record of police abuse; the citizen may distract the officer from his/her duties, resulting in a lack of control (see above point); the first is fine, the second is not. Common sense must apply.

    4. Who are the police officers that often use vocal command techniques on the phone with you? What agency do they work for? or is this a rhetorical device that you are using to illustrate a broad feeling of frustration and anger? or for some other reason?

    I won’t claim to know what you think or feel. I will ask respectfully that you focus your statements to definable points before you tar an entire group of people (most of whom) serve their communities honorably and in a way that the public can take pride in.

  7. Chris says:

    To clarify, my response if for Steve Plunk, not Steve Verdon.

    Apologies for any confusion.

    Chris

  8. Wayne says:

    “I used to think like this. Then I spent several days reading about”

    Sounds like you fell for the trap that many do. They start reading too much from one source and adopt that source’s mentality. Personally I try to seek out opposing views and make my own decision. Anybody who thinks that they can’t possibly fall into the group mentality trap are fooling themselves.

    As for law enforcers, I have a great deal of respect for them but realize that there are some that abuse their power. I don’t expect to eliminate them all but think the % can be decrease. I also believe some of their SOPs are wrong. Much of it is due to this “no tolerance” mentality. What I mean by that is society is much too willing to take away all judgment and decision out of the individual’s hands. In reality this causes more problems than it solve.

  9. Steve Verdon says:

    Sounds like you fell for the trap that many do. They start reading too much from one source and adopt that source’s mentality. Personally I try to seek out opposing views and make my own decision. Anybody who thinks that they can’t possibly fall into the group mentality trap are fooling themselves.

    No, not at all. Recall, initially I thought as Bystander. But here is my problem.

    Police almost uniformly oppose any attempts to keep track of police raids, both knock-and-announce and no-knock raids. As such we don’t know the severity of the problem of wrong door raids.

    Police state that no-knock raids are for “force protection” which implies that the “civilians” life (lives) are not worth protecting. Now maybe when you are talking about a hardened and violent criminal…okay I can possibly go with that. But there’s the rub. When it is a hardened criminal SWAT doesn’t usually go in. Check out the SWAT response to Columbine: cordon off and wait. What happened to “putting one’s life on the line for others”?

    Moreover, the real justification for no-knock raids is the preservation of evidence. To keep drug dealers from flushing the evidence down the toilet. Again there is a problem with this reasoning. The amounts one can reasonably flush down the toilet are small indicating a small time dealer. And is it reasonable to use such extreme tactics in these cases? Keep in mind that these raids occur usually very late at night or early morning. Many people are still asleep. Then doors are kicked in, flash bang grenades set off, and there is lots of shouting and people shining flashlights around. Many a person might reach for a weapon…and get dead. Even a law abiding “civilian”.

    By the way, did you know out here in California there was a no-knock raid on a house where the suspect was guilty of white collar crimes? What was he going to do flush all his account books? And he had no history of violent behavior nor did the story indicate any evidence that the suspect would be armed. But yet the “LEOs” felt it necessary to drive a humvee into the house and use a helicopter while raiding this residence. Next thing you know, jay walking will come with a mandantory arrest and 30 day jail sentence.

    I object to the mindset that cops are not “civilians” that they are somewhere between military personel and civilians. Once one has the mindset that one is different there can be the tendency for thinking that one is better.

    By the way, when there is a no-knock raid that is on the wrong house you know what often happens? The police walk next door and knock on the door. The person living there answers the door and the police take the suspect into custody. No kicked in door, no flashbang grenades, not shouting, no family pet shot. Kind makes one wonder why they police just didn’t do that at the first house too?

    2. I am not aware of any agency that trains to “bully” or “intimidate”; we are trained to control situations because we are authorized to use deadly force in specific situations. Loss of control in a situation increases the chance of deadly force having to be used.

    This is where the problem lies. Police are often protected from bad decisions. As such there is little downside from exercising this power. And power, especially without penalties for its misuse, corrupts. Now, obviously we can’t tell the police that the can’t try to control the situation to avoid dangerous and even deadly outcomes…but we can make the misuse of such power more costly. But again, police, in general, do not like civilian review boards, at least ones with teeth.

    And I think progess could be made by simply ending this horror we know as the War on Drugs. It has been the primary reason for the rise in no-knock raids and the militarization of police departments across the country (even small town police departments with little or no crime now have SWAT units).

  10. Wayne says:

    I also have issue with no-knock raids. Is it necessary sometimes? Yes. Authorizing them should be done with great caution. I don’t have a problem videotaping them either but it should be down with the understanding that there is going to be mistakes and instances where you can’t apply common feeling about things. For example, pointing guns and/or physically securing kids. It may seem cruel to do so but is dangerous for the officer and civilians not to. However the MSM and most people won’t understand that when watching the video. They also have a hard time discerning from a mistake and gross negligence.

    A long time ago I work at a maximum security prison. Often we would have a good idea when something was about to happen or when someone cell needed to be search. However there were strict procedures we had to follow to do anything. Therefore we ended up either not heading off the problem or putting innocent inmates though a bunch of BS.

  11. Steve Plunk says:

    Chris,

    Broad points indeed but necessary in the interest of brevity in a post.

    I think we differ on a few of the main points but not like you might think. First, what I regard as “harass and bully” you refer to as “trained to control situations”. Now from each side you have a different point of view, the officer is trained to believe this is a necessary way of interacting while the citizen feels disrespect and fear. I don’t think our diverging views on this are reconcilable but mine is no less valid. Even your opening statement in response to my post carried what I perceived an attempt to marginalize my points or control the situation.

    I also believe there are just too many instances of rights violations for police to be properly trained. There are also too many stories of police not purging their departments of the bad apples. To be honest, that excuse is wearing thin.

    There have been numerous times I have encountered this type of discourteous behavior from my local police department. Over the years my faith in the police has been shaken a number of times. I recall a particular story in my local paper regarding the Saturday night shift who called themselves the reservoir dogs. They boasted of their tactic of asking citizens for identification and explanations of where they were going without any cause. Those who did not comply were surrounded and yelled at until they complied. So I’m not using a rhetorical device, I speak of real things. By the way, they were disbanded soon after.

    As far as my motivations I can only claim to be an involved citizen. No tickets in twenty years, no arrests, no real trouble with the law in any form. I’ve had a neighbor who was a policeman, relatives, acquaintances. There is really no way to impugn my motives.

    Like I said, there are too many stories like this to ignore them any longer. It’s obvious problems exist and it’s my hypothesis that it’s a training problem.

    I appreciate your input and hope this discussion can continue.

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    And I think progess could be made by simply ending this horror we know as the War on Drugs. It has been the primary reason for the rise in no-knock raids and the militarization of police departments across the country (even small town police departments with little or no crime now have SWAT units).

    Once they raided my apartment cause they where raiding the apartment down stairs, they had the dudes name on the search warrant for down stairs and occupant on the search warrant for my apartment, I guess they wanted to make sure, I dint like it much and nether did my roommate who was home and had a roach on him. but then again speaking of video,I wish I had a video from when they kick in the door and he peed himself.I get home from work, door kicked in apartment trashed for safety’s sake I Guess and a yellow puddle on the Kitchen floor, lol.

    But what about my police Sgt. buddy who raids booby trapped meth labs in the nations 5th largest city almost every single day that he goes to work, I want him to have everything he needs and every advantage.

    just a couple different thing’s for the discussion to think on.

  13. anjin-san says:

    I am not aware of any agency that trains to “bully” or “intimidate”

    Please. I have had a number of unpleasant experiences over the years with these tactics over the years, and I am a lifelong inhabitant of respectable white upper middle-class land. Hate to even think about the crap poor folks and people of color have to deal with.

    I have political connections and have used them on more than one occasion in dealing with cops who seemed want to intimidate first, ask questions later. What happens to the folks who never make it to political fund raisers?

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    I have political connections and have used them on more than one occasion in dealing with cops who seemed want to intimidate first, ask questions later.

    anjin weren’t you just accusing someone of this and saying it was bad?

  15. Chris says:

    Steve,

    I would disagree that I was attempting to control anymore or less than any other poster on this site – I was making an observation of circumstances as I saw them. Having said that, I appreciate your reciprocating civility – on this site and others that is not always the norm.

    I would agree that we have divergent views that can’t (and don’t necessarily need to be) reconciled. I am a product of my personality, experiences and training like any person. I take exception to your statements b/c they include me (by definition) within the broad strokes that you have cast. I am not the person that you describe; the people that I work with aren’t those that you describe; I know that the people you describe are out there, but I don’t think they are a result of poor training – they are a result of their own failings.

    This is obviously personal to me, by virtue of my job and what I have chosen to do with my life. I would ask you to at least consider that fact when you use rhetorical devices for brevity in your postings (what I am asking is for your consideration that your speech has an impact on real people who visit this site).

    For what its worth, I am not a proponent of improperly used investigative techniques (to include the very narrow, purposefully chosen examples you provided above; I am a proponent of necessary law enforcement tools that allow myself and others in this field to accomplish the public safety goals that we are charged with.

    Bad apples yes; bad system – no; bad training – no.

  16. anjin-san says:

    anjin weren’t you just accusing someone of this and saying it was bad?

    Not sure what you are referring to.

    I work hard, pay my taxes and take care of my family and don’t break the law. If a police officer tries to treat me like a punk, I am going to be on the phone to his bosses bosses boss. A citizen is entitled to hold public employees accountable. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    (Its not like this has happened a lot, but it has happened).

  17. DL says:

    I’m not a lawyer either (thank God) but it seems to me that this is close to being a whistleblower situation and I’m all for it. Look at what the Rodney King film, exposed. People who have the authority to arrest and carry guns, are still people with all the flaws of people and therefore need all the reasonable review that can reasonably be obtained. Protection for the whistle blowers is esential. Creating false reasons for arrest is always a temptation for a cop. It needs to be punished and prevented as best can be done without making the civilian the uncontrolled authority. The need is to control the misuse of authority?

  18. G.A.Phillips says:

    It had to do with Palin and what you think happened and the reasons you were alluding to.

    have political connections and have used them on more than one occasion in dealing with cops who seemed want to intimidate first, ask questions later.

    And sorry bro, it just sounds a lot better when you say it like this—->

    I work hard, pay my taxes and take care of my family and don’t break the law. If a police officer tries to treat me like a punk, I am going to be on the phone to his bosses bosses boss. A citizen is entitled to hold public employees accountable. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    I don’t see anything wrong with this ether.

  19. anjin-san says:

    It had to do with Palin and what you think happened and the reasons you were alluding to.

    There is a big difference between a citizen calling an elected official to complain about abuse of power by a public employee and an elected official using the power of office to arbitrarily deal with public employees outside of due process.

    Given her family involvement with the Wooten affair, Palin should not have touched it with a ten foot pole. She should have recused herself and let someone else in the state government deal with it. Abuse of power and poor judgement.

  20. G.A.Phillips says:

    Given her family involvement with the Wooten affair, Palin should not have touched it with a ten foot pole. She should have recursed herself and let someone else in the state government deal with it. Abuse of power and poor judgment

    .

    come on bro if it had been me or you we would Wu Taned that gimp extra viscously, you Know, been all over his crazy but like white on rice and any foo who got in the way, family is family.

  21. Joe says:

    The police must be held in check, especially when police abuse and brutality is on the rise. People don’t understand that the police work for the people, not the other way around. If the police fail to recognize this, they must be reminded, and the public has every right to monitor police activity.