A Newport Beach police officer intimidated a man into deleting his photos of a crash scene last week, but rest assured, it will be taken care of internally.
At least according to the photographer who spoke to the department’s deputy chief a few days after the incident.
The photographer is Frank Peters, who maintains a bicycle advocacy blog, who came across an incident where a car struck at least two bicyclists, leaving at least one bloody and injured and in need of an ambulance.
This is how he described it in his initial post:
Traffic was stopped, blocked in both directions; I walked across the street just as the ambulance backed up and sped away. I could see a bloody t-shirt, two bikes, both blue, both carbon fiber road bikes, one in the street near the curb on Iris, the other up on the sidewalk. I was 15′ away as I started taking photos with my iPhone; I kept my distance as I walked in an arc to shoot the scene from a different angle. Two officers sprang off the sidewalk, “May I help you?” A rhetorical question, a taunt.
“You’ll have to remove those photos from your phone,” said the one in my face. Right behind him, “Or we’ll take your phone away from you.”
“I’m on the Bike Safety Committee,” I mumbled, defensively.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” one shouted right back at me.
I know enough about photography and the law to know he had no right to this demand. Judge and jury, I’m thinking.
I’m feeling bullied. I quickly consider my options; I decide to erase the photos. The one officer stands over me as my fingers stumble to pull up the images and delete each one. “If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, you can call the station.”
Instead of calling the station, the Newport Beach Bike Safety Committee member blogged about it.
Then a few days later, he received a call from Newport Beach Police Deputy Chief David McGill who told him it was being investigated.
That was enough to satisfy Peters, according to his follow-up post on the incident:
D.C. McGill begins at the beginning, restating what he’s been up to the past few days, then he gets right to the point. He was able to identify the officer involved and he was quick to admit his actions. Relief spreads over me. He continues, “I can’t get into the details of the personnel issues, but this will be dealt with. Plus I’ve taken steps to refresh every other officer’s understanding of a citizen’s right to photograph the scene of an investigation.”
I’m ready to move on and I sense the same from McGill. “I have photographs of the scene and if you can wait till Monday I’ll have someone get them to you.” Thanks, I accept; that would be nice closure.
While this may seem as if this had a happy ending, the truth is, the cop who intimidated Peters is guilty of California Penal Code 135, which states the following:
Every person who, knowing that any book, paper, record, instrument in writing, or other matter or thing, is about to be produced in evidence upon any trial, inquiry, or investigation whatever, authorized by law, willfully destroys or conceals the same, with intent thereby to prevent it from being produced, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
But it’s obvious that Peters was afraid that if he would push the matter any further, they would make his life a living hell, which we all know is very possible. This is what ran through his head in the moments before he returned McGill’s call:
In these few minutes I have time to sweat what’s just ahead with McGill’s call. I also have time to reflect on a story one old friend at the birthday party was telling about a friend of his, in another city, who tangled with the police and eventually had to move to a different city because of all the retaliation that occurred. Surely this wouldn’t happen to me, but, less dramatically, what if the officer denied my version of events. What then?
So even though McGill assured it would be addressed internally, we still don’t know the name of the cop or how he will disciplined or if McGill was only giving Peters lip service to prevent him for taking legal action.
All we know is that they got away with a crime.
While I understand completey how intimidating police officers can be, the best thing to do is switch your phone into video mode, point it at the cop’s face and get him on the record as to exactly what laws you are breaking.
If enough of us do that, they will eventually get the message that we are not going to back down from doing something as legal and harmless as recording.
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CARLOS MILLER’S LEGAL DEFENSE FUND
I am immersed in a legal case where I not only want to clear my criminal charges stemming from my arrest in January, but I want to sue the Miami-Dade Police Department for deleting my footage, which I was able to recover.
My goal is to set some type of precedent to ensure this does not happen as often as it does today where cops simply get away with it.
So if you would like to contribute, please click on the “donate” button below and contribute whatever you can afford.
Also, in an unrelated PINAC matter, I recently went through a hair transplant operation and I’m documenting my recovery on this blog if you are interested. I did not pay for this transplant, which is why I’m promoting the doctor through the hair transplant blog.