Two months ago, an off-duty Florida deputy rammed his vehicle into a car in front of him on a busy interstate highway, shattering the back glass of the car containing a family.
Hillsborough County sheriff’s homicide detective Tom Pettis, 55, then stepped out of his truck and stormed up to the car he had just struck.
Schoolteacher Evan Rees, 38, stepped out to greet him, still dazed from the impact.
A shouting match ensued. Strangers pulled over and gathered around.
Pettis grabbed Rees and wrestled him to the ground, trying to gouge his eyes out. Bystanders pulled them apart.
One girl started recording.
Pettis then pulled out a gun, pointed it at Rees and threatened to kill him, according to several witnesses.
The detective then pulled out his badge as if to justify his actions. And as they were waiting for deputies from his own department to respond, Pettis barreled though a crowd of people and punched Rees in the head.
The girl apparently caught it all on video.
But responding deputies ordered her to delete the footage after they first obtained a copy of the clip. Her family, unfortunately, allowed her to comply.
According to the Tampa Bay Times:
The latter portion of the fight, including Pettis’ drawing of his gun, were captured in a cell-phone video by Krumm’s 13-year-old daughter.
The video has not yet been made public, and was not among the investigative records obtained by the Times. The Sheriff’s Office referred a request for the footage to the State Attorney’s Office, which had not provided the video by the end of last week.
In a written summary of the recording, Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office Det. Charles Hollis, the lead investigator of the incident, said Pettis can be seen drawing his gun and pointing it in Rees’ direction “for approximately one second” while sitting on the ground. Pettis then stands up and lowers the gun, according to Hollis’ report.
It is unclear whether the video captured sound from the confrontation. Hollis made no mention of Pettis’ alleged threats being recorded.
Krumm said that after his family gave the video footage to Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies on the scene, the deputies asked that the family delete their copy of it, saying they didn’t “want it to get out through social web sites.” A deputy asked to watch them delete it before they got back in their car and left, Krumm said.
“They were really big on the whole deleting of the video,” he said.
Without the video going public, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office were able to more effectively twist the truth where they charged Pettis with misdemeanor simple battery instead of felony aggravated assault with a firearm, meaning he can avoid mandatory jail time if convicted.
They also never booked Pettis into jail, ensuring his mugshot would never go public. And, of course, they never publicly acknowledged the incident.
And instead of firing him, they allowed him to quietly retire last month, preventing an internal affairs investigation – which we know would not have gone anywhere anyway – but allowing him to retain his pension benefits.
Also at stake are 28 pending homicide cases which he was investigating, leaving defense attorneys with plenty of ammunition as to why he is not a credible cop.
The sheriff’s office said that if Jeff Krum felt his daughter’s rights were violated when deputies intimidated her into deleting the footage, then he is welcome to file a complaint with the department.
Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office spokesman Det. Larry McKinnon said that Krumm would need to file a formal complaint before the agency looked into whether the request to delete the video was appropriate. But he dismissed suggestions that Pettis had received favorable treatment from investigators.
“This should show the public that not only do we hold our people to the same standards as the public, but we hold them to a higher standard,” McKinnon said. “We’re the ones who investigated it and recommended that he be charged.”
The lesson here is to never give up your original footage, even if you do decide to provide cops with footage you recorded. There is nothing in the law requires you to hand your camera or your footage to police.
The only exceptions are if the camera was used in the commission of a crime, like child pornography or upskirting, or if the cops believe you will destroy the footage, which would fall under the “exigent circumstances” provision of the law.
But we’ve learned time after time that the only people wishing to delete footage are the same people demanding you hand it over to them, so be stubborn and strong if you ever find yourself in such a situation because it could make the difference between police being held accountable and police getting away with crime.
To read more about the law and your rights when it comes to recording police in public, read through these legal guidelines prepared by the United States Department of Justice.
And for more tips on recording police in public, click on PINAC’s Top Ten Rules for Recording Cops.