Serving a town of less than 15,000 people, the Crowley Police Department probably doesn’t receive many calls throughout the day.
This is, after all, a police department that sends out press releases advising residents of door-to-door sales people who might “sweet talk” them into purchasing products they might not need as well as warning residents of coral snakes that may appear in their yards.
It’s a town better known for its rice than its vice that can almost be Mayberry with the exception that the cops here have no regards for the Constitution.
That is why they shouldn’t be surprised when they were subjected to the PINAC Wrath last Friday as readers unleashed on them with an endless stream of calls demanding they return Theresa Richard’s camera, which they confiscated earlier in the week after she had walked into the police department with her camera to drop off an article.
She said she records her interactions with police in order to protect herself because she doesn’t feel safe around them ever since filing a lawsuit against them. Since her arrest last week, she said they have posted signs banning photography and videography in the station. As if a makeshift sign would trump the Constitution.
Regardless of their made-up policies and liberal interpretations of the law, there is no question that they acted unlawfully when they confiscated her camera as “evidence” because even if she was guilty of the charge, she wasn’t using the camera in the commission of the crime, which would be defined as upskirting or child pornography.
Furthermore, they would still need to obtain a warrant or subpoena unless they could prove exigent circumstances, which would mean they would have to have a strong suspicion she is either going to destroy the footage or disappear with it.
They are just not allowed to just take her camera because they are annoyed at her and want to teach her a lesson.
The U.S. Department of Justice made this very clear in a set of guidelines it released last year for police departments:
Warrantless seizures are only permitted if an officer has probable cause to believe that the property “holds contraband or evidence of a crime” and “the exigencies of the circumstances demand it or some other recognized exception to the warrant requirement is present.” United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 701 (1983). Any such seizure must be a “temporary restraint where needed to preserve evidence until police c[an] obtain a warrant.” Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 334 (2001). Seizures must be limited to a reasonable period of time. For example, in Illinois v. McArthur, the Supreme court upheld a police officer’s warrantless seizure of a premises, in part, because police had good reason to fear that evidence would be destroyed and the restraint only lasted for two hours – “no longer than reasonably necessary for the police, acting with diligence, to obtain the warrant.” Id. at 332. Once seized, officers may not search the contents of the property without first obtaining the warrant. Place, 462 U.S. at 701 & n.3. In the context of the seizure of recording devices, this means that officers may not search for or review an individual’s recordings absent a warrant.
And that is why so many PINAC readers called them on Friday at the following number: (337) 788-4100.
But as you can read in a letter from the city attorney to Richard’s attorney, they are not very pleased. The letter further below is their snub to Richard’s attorney after he requested the return of her camera.
Although the local newspaper, the Crowley Post-Signal, has refused to report on the lawsuit or about the camera confiscation, a television news station from Lafayette has jumped on the story since learning about it from PINAC, so hopefully we’ll see something from them soon.
Meanwhile, Richard has launched a Facebook page where she is keeping followers and supporters updated.
Send stories, tips and videos to Carlos Miller.