Documenting public officials is a well established liberty protected by the First Amendment. Unfortunately engaging in this activity can be very dangerous for the observer. Over the years, while running the Youtube channel HONORYOUROATH, I have learned how critical it can be for your safety to record all encounters with public officials.
A perfect example of how a seemingly ordinary encounter with public officials can turn into a disaster for the citizen is the story of Rita Hutchins, a petite Idaho woman who last year was requesting public records in Sandpoint City Hall for a lawsuit against the city when she was bullied by government officials, ordering her to leave.
She allegedly threw down a pen in frustration, which ricocheted off a desktop and grazed a city clerk, leading to her being charged with criminal battery.
Things spiraled out of control to the point where police raided her home late one night as can be seen in the video below.
If you don’t protect yourself by recording, it comes down to your word against the word of police, meaning you’re screwed.
I have learned through personal encounters with public officials that not only is it vital to record, but you need to record with multiple devices.
On July 10th 2013 in Palatka, Florida, I was cuffed and detained by Deputy Griffen of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office while legally open carrying a firearm. Even though Deputy Griffen terminated the recording on both of my cameras, the audio recorder in my back pocket went unnoticed and continued to record throughout the duration of the detainment.
As you can see in Deputy Griffin’s incident report, what he says happened and what actually happened are quite different.
In June of 2013, Assistant Warden George Dedos of the Lake City Corrections Corporation Of America snatched my main camera from my hands and terminated the recording. Unknown to Warden Dedos, my back-up camera continued to record uninterrupted.
On October 23 2013, I was arrested by two Game Over Task Force Agents from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. At the point of arrest, one of the Task Force Agents struck my wrist with great force knocking my iPhone from my hand, shattering it on the asphalt. I believe the agents intent was to damage my phone so badly that not only would the recording be stopped, but also destroyed.
At the time, I had four other devices recording. One of these devices was a dash board camera located in my vehicle. Three of my recorders were seized as evidence but the audio recorder and the dash cam were not seized.
It was the dash cam video that my wife published to YouTube the same day of my arrest. The YouTube video showed that the arrest was questionable and unleashed a social media and call flood directed at the sheriff’s office protesting my arrest.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of money to invest in multiple cameras. During my Brevard County arrest, I was wearing an audio recorder on a lanyard around my neck, which costs less than $15, as well as a bluetooth spy camera, which can be purchased for $99, and a dash cam, which costs about $100.
Pass Code and Live Stream
Sometimes it’s not enough to just carry multiple recording devices. We have read countless stories here on PINAC about police deleting video or losing the camera. If you record with a smart phone, you must have the pass code activated to protect the video recording from being deleted. It is also a good idea to use a live streaming app just in case your phone is damaged or disappears. After the arrest in Brevard County, I now use the live streaming app called Bambuser.
A good example of Bambuser being used was during Pete Eyre’s arrest for jaywalking last month, who was able to continue recording, even after cops believed they had turned off his camera.
At all times I carry on me at least three fully charged recording devices with plenty of available memory space. I understand that most people aren’t going to engage in copwatching activities. However, odds are most of us will experience an unwanted encounter with law enforcement at some point. It is best to be prepared and have in your possession at all times the equipment necessary to protect yourself.