For the ten minutes that they harassed him for bringing a dismantled bicycle on the Long Island Rail Road train and placing it underneath his seat, the pair of Metropolitan Transit Authority cops did not seem to mind that Jeffrey Pena was holding a white iPhone 5 in his hand, typing away on Instagram as he tried to figure out exactly what law he had broken.
It wasn’t until he turned the phone’s video camera on to record them that they started fearing for their lives.
The cops only allowed the video to run for 22 seconds, quickly snatching it from him and placing him in handcuffs, implying that the phone was a deadly weapon.
“What law am I breaking right now,” Pena, a Dominican-born artist with a masters degree in architecture, can be heard saying.
“You’re not complying with the order,” the cop tells him
“What order?” Pena asks.
“I don’t know if that’s a phone,” the cop responds while placing him in handcuffs.
While the video is only 22 seconds, Pena’s blog post describing the incident that took place August 12 goes into great detail, although he was never able to find out what law he had broken.
They ended up letting him go after they got bored of violating his civil rights.
Below is just an excerpt from a very long-wind posted (not that I blame him for wanting to document every single detail of this incident):
The officer didn’t seem to know much about constitutional law. It is my constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public. For me, it was important to get this public servant on the record explaining why he was detaining an American citizen without legal grounds. He personally decided it was best I not record. He then physically accosted me, confiscated my phone and put me in handcuffs after only 22 seconds of footage. By his demeanor, I knew that I wouldn’t be allowed to record for long, so I quickly launched the same series of questions during our previous conversation. In the few seconds I was able to capture, he fumbles and self-incrimates. He has no reason for detaining me other than the pleasure of exercising his authority. (See video)
After realizing that he had no legal rights to stop me from recording, or at all, he post-rationalized that my I-Phone could have been a decoy weapon even though I verbally stated that I was recording a video of him serving his duty. First he suggested I had mace. At one point it was also alleged that I could be carrying a bicycle pump that doubles as a pistol. It’s important to note that my phone was in my hand since the moment the officers saw me on the train. In millennial fashion, I was instagramming as I made conversation. I assumed that they had already cleared my white I-Phone 5 for safety by then about ten minutes later. Otherwise I would’ve been shot. If they felt genuine fear, like I did, I don’t think they would have hesitated. I only reached in my pockets when I was ordered to – My wallet was in my back right pocket of my Armani jeans.
He cited the mysterious legal reason for detaining me as “Failure to comply with a lawful order”. Since he didn’t know which law I wasn’t compliant with, I assume he meant “Failure to comply with an order from an officer of the law.” Which is drastically different. Not heeding the every need of a cop isn’t a crime on it’s own rite. America isn’t fascist. As this rogue agent of the state sequestered me, I complained that he was using excessive force. At times, Worse Cop, even purposefully pushed the left handcuff into an unfortunately bulky Redline watch. I denounced him to his colleague for using unnecessary roughness. To no avail. Bad Cop was mostly passive, although he also regaled in what he was doing. As he was handcuffing me, Worse Cop muddled something along the lines of me having prior knowledge about how handcuffs felt. (Although not precisely in those words.) I didn’t. Currently, over 48 hours later I still have bruises around my left wrist.
I was then padded down. Worse Cop proceeded to look into my pockets at which point I reminded him that I never agreed to a search. He didn’t even offer the courtesy of asking. He said that because I was detained I was not allowed to deny his search – he had still not cited a probable cause for his actions. He first said he had to see what I had on my person “for his protection”. Despite citing this reason, he never looked in my oversized black Timbuktu messenger bag which was always on my person or by my side. Even after the decoy weapon accusation. A messenger bag is where a cyclist would transport his holstered weapon if he had a Concealed Carry Permit. He proceeded to search my pockets to eventually find my wallet which he pulled out to sort through. He then made me sit down.
He perused through my wallet first glazing through a stack of cash, then each item: a pair of personal credit cards, business credit card, American passport, metro card, an old permit, a health club card, graduate school ID and alumni card from Rhode Island School of Design, a North American Reciprocal Museum Alliance card given to donors of a network of American museums as a perk, oh and my LIRR bicycle permit. I was glad he saw that. Interestingly enough, no one had bothered to check it until now. The conductor never did his two jobs – First, to make sure that I paid for my trip and, since I’m a cyclist, to make sure that I knew the bicycle policy he was trying to enforce. I would have demonstrated this by showing the signed permit. The $5 fee I paid goes towards processing this paperwork.
As he was browsing, Bad Cop was simultaneously grilling me on why “I have a problem following policy.” I was at a lost for words by the time of interrogation. Was he a policy maker or a law enforcer? I was only able to provide guttural utterances, perhaps confirming the officer’s wrongful assumptions that I was ignorant of the law and due process. If I had more presence of mind, I would have told him very simply that policies are standing plans that provide guidelines for making decisions. They aren’t laws. If a cyclist comes to your empty train, it’s bad business to leave him there stranded. If a cyclist comes to your full train he will understand that being present will lead to an overall worse experience for everyone involved. It’s an easy concession. Afterall, cycling and public service are both about the greater good.
Policies are put in place for companies to create the best overall experience for customers. If a customer comes to one of our dance studios with an expired GroupOn offer, the printed policy says that we can deny service. If our classes can bear it, we always accommodate. “The more the merrier” is specially true when business is anemic. If the classes are full when a late redeemer comes, we don’t cram – it’s against policy! It would take away from the other student’s personal time with the instructor and away from couple’s floor space to execute turn patterns. My confusion at the moment impeded my ability to think and express myself. Not that it would have been allowed at this point. No one was thinking and the only expressions were of anger and resentment.
Worse Cop at this point told me to “shut up” and decided that my old permit would serve him best to call in a background check. As he was waiting to hear back, he continued grilling me but I had few words during this part of the questioning process. I did what I always do when I try not to burst out in tears. I held a fake smile and laughed nervously at the implications that I was a criminal. When Worse Cap chastised me for my “smirks” , I told Bad Cop that his colleagues criminalizing all of my actions was the kind of assumption that lead us here in the first place. They went beyond upholding the laws. At times making up laws of their own. At one point choosing to become a psychologist by making the reading that my nervous laugh demonstrated no regard for law enforcement.
They got the alert that I had a clean slate – no prior convictions, no arrest warrants, no traffic violations, no parking tickets, no high school fights (Does your wrestling record come up? I’d be in trouble.). An aspiring architect has to maintain a clean record otherwise, law does not allowed to him to get an architectural license. I think parking tickets are allowed although my lifestyle doesn’t allow for them. At one point he was excusing himself by saying something to the effect that he was just doing his job. Again, his job was done when I walked out of the train. Bad Cop and Worse Cop consulted in code for some time. I tried to hold onto the words and letters that were flying back and forth in their rapid exchange, currently I don’t remember any of them. Most of it was law enforcement diatribe and half speak. Finally they decided that getting something downstairs to follow one procedure would require too much effort to bother. The first code was the most reasonable legal course of action. They let me go on account of “being nice.” They never gave information on how I could follow through and left me there on the bench.
Here’s a general phone number for MTA police from their website if anybody wants to contact them. 877-690-5116