Georgia Man Arrested and Banned from Sheriff's Office for Recording Public Records Request - PINAC News
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Georgia Man Arrested and Banned from Sheriff’s Office for Recording Public Records Request

It was just over a year ago that Matthew Haley was arrested for video recording on a public street corner in Georgia after deputies demanded his identification and he refused to provide it on the basis that he was not committing a crime, telling them that all he was doing was documenting the number of cars violating traffic laws.

Two days later on the Fourth of July, after having spent 12 hours in jail for obstructing, he was standing outside the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in Augusta being interviewed by a local television reporter about his arrest when a pair of deputies walked up to him and demanded his identification again, accusing him of suspicious behavior because he was holding a cell phone camera, even though it was obvious he was retelling the story of his unlawful arrest – a charge that is still pending.

He hesitated at first, asking them if he was committing a crime, but eventually provided them identification, not wanting to spend another 12 hours in jail, especially on Independence Day, which evidently doesn’t mean a thing to the Constitutional contemptuous cops of Richmond County.

The local television media, of course, was oblivious as to whether he had the right to record on public property without showing identification, so they “went digging” as they explained to viewers in their report, interviewing a local attorney who stated that deputies had every right to harass and intimidate citizens into producing identification, but citizens don’t necessarily have to comply if they are not breaking the law (which, of course, won’t prevent them from getting arrested but the media is not concerned about that).

WRDW-TV also was sure to include sheriff statements that pulling out a cell phone camera in front of the sheriff’s department could lead to incidents like the Boston Marathon bombing or the Sandy Hook shooting, so it was simply a matter of safety to shake Haley down, never mind the fact that terrorists would likely not commit an act of destruction while standing directly in front of a news camera.

A few months later, Haley returned to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office to make a public records request for the report pertaining to the July 4th incident, but was again harassed because he had a camera and was ordered away under threat of arrest.

He managed to submit his request outside the sheriff’s building before he was forced to scurry away, told never to come back again unless he had legitimate business – as if submitting a public records request is somehow illegitimate.

However, when he later called the department for a copy of the trespass order, he was told that none existed.

Fast forward to Tuesday of this week when he returned to the sheriff’s department to make more public records requests,  only to wind up arrested again because he had refused to turn off his camera.

But Georgia public records law allows citizens to photograph public records during their requests, so again, it was an unlawful arrest, especially considering there is no law against video recording in the lobby of a public building as he was doing.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security was forced to acknowledge in a 2010 settlement that photography is permissible within “building entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors or auditoriums for news purposes” of federal buildings, which are always more restrictive than local government buildings.

Also, a month earlier, he had called the department to advise them he was planning on coming down to the station to make public records requests and wanted to ensure there would be no problems considering his previous history. And Sergeant Michael McDaniel informed him there would be no problem in a telephone conversation Haely recorded under Georgia’s one-party consent law.

Deputies ended up releasing him with no charges about 20 minutes later after having handcuffed him to a bench in a holding cell while they tried to delete the footage from his GoPro, trying to find a law for which to charge him. Unknowing to them, he had it set up where it could only be deleted from his smartphone, which was locked with a passcode.

But as he sat in the cell, he heard the GoPro beep several times the way it does when someone tries to delete the footage after it has been set up to synchronize with his smartphone.

He had been trying to request the department’s policies on taser use and seatbelt use by deputies; the requests stemming from an incident last year where a man died after being tased at a gas station as well as a separate incident last month where a deputy was ejected from a patrol car following an accident where she was not wearing a seat belt.

After those incidents, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office told the media their deputies had been following proper tasering protocol when they tasered George Harvey to death at the gas station and that emergency responders in Georgia are under no legal obligation to wear seat belts because, you know, they are above the law.

However, he had learned that departmental policy forbids using tasers near flammable liquids as would be the case in a gas station and that deputies are required to wear seat belts at all times, despite whatever exception may exist under state law, which would have applied to deputy Tiffany Justice.

But he wanted to confirm these details by asking for the actual written policies from the department.

However, never got a chance because deputy Thomas, who screens everybody entering the building, did not want to be on camera.

“He’s supposed to be making some type of release of information act but he’s being hardheaded and won’t take that camcorder off me and I don’t want to be photographed,” deputy Thomas told a woman who came to his assistance, failing to see the irony of working a job that requires him to stand directly underneath a surveillance camera as you can see at 2:37.

Although they released him with no charges, they once again told him he was banned from the sheriff’s department, unless, of course, he had a “lawful reason” for being there, which evidently, means anything other than holding them accountable to the written law.

But making public records requests is a lawful reason, even if you do it verbally and on camera as you can read from the Georgia statute below:

B. The Open Records Process

Open records requests may be made to any custodian of the desired records. A written request is not required but is advisable to eliminate any dispute as to what was requested or when the request was made. A sample open records request is attached as Appendix 3 to this booklet. The records custodian

50-18-71. Right of access to make photographs or reproductions.

(a) In all cases where an interested member of the public has a right to inspect or take extracts or make copies from any public records, instruments, or documents, any such person shall have the right of access to the records, documents, or instruments for the purpose of making photographs or reproductions of the same while in the possession, custody, and control of the lawful custodian thereof, or his authorized deputy. Such work shall be done under the supervision of the lawful custodian of the records, who shall have the right to adopt and enforce reasonable rules governing the work. The work shall be done in the room where the records, documents, or instruments are kept by law. While the work is in progress, the custodian may charge the person making the photographs or reproductions of the records, documents, or instruments at a rate of compensation to be agreed upon by the person making the photographs and the custodian for his services or the services of a deputy in supervising the work.

But we know Richmond County deputies don’t respect the Constitution, so why should we expect them to respect a state statute, especially one that allows citizens to ensure government transparency?

Not only did they tell him public records requests must be made in writing, they have a page on their website informing citizens of the public records request process, which contradicts state law in requiring requests be made in writing.

Open Records Requests
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, as a government agency, understands that almost all our of actions are available for public review. We are dedicated to meeting all open records requests received in writing in a timely manner. Much of the information on this web site is provided to give easy access to public information.

Open records requests should contain the following: requestor’s name, phone number, and return address; specific type of information being requested including names, dates, times, locations, and case numbers (if available). Also please reference the appropriate Georgia or Federal Public Information or Record Law under which you are applying.

Depending on the type of information requested, charges may be incurred. If this is the case, we will contact you prior to your request being processed. Also note that individuals and attorneys wishing to obtain information concerning a case in which an individual is awaiting trial may be required to contact the Richmond County Clerk of Superior Court and file appropriate discovery motions.

For questions or additional information concerning open records call 706-821-10

This may not seem like a big deal to some, but imagine if a person is unable to write a request because of physical handicap or language barriers. Or a person who did not want to provide their name out of fear of retaliation, which we can see they’ve been doing to Haley.

While the local television media doesn’t seem to have a clue about fundamental Constitutional rights, the local newspaper seems to get it, publishing an editorial Tuesday, the same day of Haley’s latest incident, reminding cops of the law. Thank you, Damon Cline. Your timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

You see, police departments across America are being sued – and rightfully so – by individuals who have been wrongfully detained or arrested for committing the perfectly legal act of filming police in public.

And it’s not just traditional journalists being harassed. Everyday citizens – from soccer moms with cellphone cameras to semi-organized bands of citizen-activists who live-stream police activities to the Internet – are being threatened and even assaulted for pointing cameras at cops.

Nearly every week it seems a video goes viral on YouTube or LiveLeak that depicts an officer roughing up some poor schmuck for running his smartphone recorder during a traffic stop or a service call.

Just type “arrested for recording police,” “police recording settlement” or some variation into your favorite search engine. You’ll find any number of questionable arrests and detentions making headlines in communities around the country. Or do a similar search on video-sharing sites to queue up literally thousands of citizen-police videos.

Before we go any further, let’s get one thing perfectly clear: It is absolutely legal to record on-duty cops. Period.

But considering the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has yet to get the message, it’s time to unleash the PINAC Wrath on them. Especially considering we will be observing Independence Day tomorrow, celebrating our so-called freedoms.

Call Sheriff Richard Roundtree at 706-821-1065 or any other of the numbers listed here. Or leave a comment on their Facebook page. 

Here is the number to the local chamber of commerce as well: 706-821-1300

And here is the video from last year’s arrest as well as another video from earlier last year where he was harassed for video recording from a public sidewalk as well as another video of a law enforcement officer telling him, “don’t get smart with me” after Haley tells him he is only exercising his First Amendment right to record him in public.

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