For 40 minutes, Utah resident Bryce Weber noticed the cop sitting in an unmarked car parked in front of his home Saturday, so he decided to step outside with a camera to make some inquiries, thinking the cop was surveilling his home for some reason.
Realizing he was being approached, Woods Cross City police officer Ryan Lundquist stepped out the car in full uniform to greet him.
When Weber asked what he was doing, Lundquist said it didn’t concern him, then asked for his name, which Weber declined to provide.
“It doesn’t matter, I know who you are anyway,” Lundquist replied before getting back into his car.
The cop then rolled down the window and accused Weber of “interfering with what I’m about to do.”
Weber, 19, who is on felony probation from a previous arrest involving $50 worth of marijuana which we will discuss below, then stepped onto the sidewalk and continued recording, prompting Lundquist to step back out of his car again.
This time, he brought up the old “officer safety” excuse that cops believe trumps the Constitution.
“You have the right to film from a public sidewalk but when you start to compromise my safety and yours, I’ve got a problem,” the cop said. “You need to return to your home because your safety is going to be in trouble as well as mine because you’re standing right here.”
Weber insisted he wasn’t compromising the officer’s safety by recording, but offered to move down the sidewalk, again asserting his right to document police from a public space.
But the cop insisted that would still be interfering.
“You don’t know what I’m about to do and you’re going to be interfering with my investigation, so if you do want to get arrested, I will get you out of the way where you’ll be safe and that will be jail,” Lundquist threatened.
Weber asked for a sergeant in the hopes to clear up the misconception about the laws on interfering, which require a person to physically interfere or to refuse a lawful order, which would not include refusing to go back inside his home when there is no evidence of danger in the area.
“You’re about to be in our way if you don’t return to your house, I will arrest you right now,” the cops said. “Go back to your house.”
Another cop arrived, not a sergeant, who asserted that Weber was guilty of impeding an investigation and disorderly conduct, the latter for not following “lawful orders.”
But ordering somebody to go back into their home because they are recording is not a lawful order as we learned from the Emily Good case in Rochester, New York in 2011.
It would be different, perhaps, if there was a standoff situation with a potential for a violent shootout while some jackass insists on standing in the line of fire (at least in Florida, which I learned while researching my appeal a few years ago).
But that was not the case here.
“You are holding us up from what we’re about to do because we’re dealing with you, somebody’s life could be in jeopardy right now, so you better move your butt or you’re going to go in my car right now,” Lundquist said.
Weber agreed to walk across the street, but insisted he was going to continue recording.
And that seemed to satisfy the cops at first, who proceeded to lock their car doors and make their way to the home to investigate this alleged life threatening situation.
But Lundquist continued to allow himself to be distracted by Weber and his camera.
“As long as you’re here, we can’t do our job,” Lundquist shouted from across the street before crossing the street and confronting Weber again, accusing him of standing in his way.
“You’re just really getting in our way and we have somebody’s life in jeopardy right now and we can’t check on them because of you.”
Weber ended up in handcuffs, his phone stripped from him, forced to sit in the back of the car for 40 minutes.
So what exactly were these cops investigating where safety was such a factor they needed to clear the entire block of citizens?
From Weber’s understanding, it stemmed from an incident on the previous Tuesday where a neighbor called police to report a case of possible domestic abuse within the adjoining duplex unit.
When cops arrived, they learned it was only a couple having a loud argument, so they left without making any arrests.
Five days later, it appears as if the neighbor called police again because there was no activity inside the home. Or perhaps cops were just doing a welfare check.
But somehow cops were led to believe something sinister had taken place in the house, which is why one officer sat in his car for 40 minutes waiting for a second cop to arrive before approaching the residence.
It appears that they knocked and received no answer, so they entered the home, but found nothing amiss.
It turns out, the couple had left town on vacation.
Nevertheless, they cited Weber for disorderly conduct and released him, which complicates matters for him because he is already on probation for another arrest from more than a year ago where a cop from the Bountiful Police Department had him handcuffed in the back of the car for possession of $50 worth of marijuana.
During this detainment, Weber received a phone call from a friend, so the cop answered the phone, impersonating his voice. The person calling was wondering if Weber could obtain some marijuana for him, so the cop told the person to meet him at a local high school to make the transaction.
Although the transaction never took place, this enabled Bountiful police to charge Weber with felony possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute because the cop had set up the deal within 1,000 feet of a school.
The fact that the cop answered Weber’s phone as well as set up the transaction at the school seems extremely unconstitutional and entrapping.
But Weber said he was unable to afford a lawyer, so he had to rely on a public defender whom he had no confidence in, which is why he pleaded guilty and was placed on probation.
However, ever since he posted his video on Facebook on Saturday, his probation officer and the judge are extremely disappointed in him. In fact, the judge,
Thomas L. Kay John R. Morris of the Second District Court in Utah, informed Weber that he needs to edit his video to admit he was wrong as well as admit he is a felon.
This is how Weber explained it in a Facebook message:
They didn’t really give me reason. They didn’t tell me I had to delete it per se, but they told me that I must edit the video and admit that I am a felon. Admit that I shouldn’t have been filming the police. Admit I was disrupting the officer. Admit I placed our safety in jeopardy. Also I must meet with the county prosecutor to address what I must edit and say
This is extremely alarming because the judge is essentially demanding Weber admit to guilt before he has even had a chance to enter a plea when the Fifth Amendment allows us to maintain our innocence even after we are convicted.
I know this very well because this one of the arguments I used during my appeal a few years ago, which reversed a resisting arrest conviction where the courts then chose not to refile the case.
In my case, the judge gave me a harsher sentence than sought by the prosecutor because he was “shocked” at my “lack of remorse.” But I will never feel remorse for photographing cops in public and neither should Weber.
While it’s true that probationers generally have less rights than non-probationers, a judge in California last week ruled that probationers have the right to record cops within their homes as well as outside their homes.
The location of where the video recording was being made was plaintiff’s place of residence. If a plaintiff has a clearly established constitutional right to record from a public place where the plaintiff has the lawful right to be, a plaintiff surely has such a right in his or her home. There simply is no principled basis upon which to find that although the right to record officers conducting their official duties only extends to duties performed in public, the right does not extend to those performed in a private residence. The public’s interest in ensuring that police officers properly carry out their duties and do not abuse the authority bestowed on them by society does not cease once they enter the private residence of a citizen. To the contrary, there appears to be an even greater interest for such recordings when a police officer’s actions are shielded from the public’s view. Further, there is no reason to believe that plaintiff’s status as a probationer would diminish the public’s interest in how police exercise their authority in a private citizen’s home.
Weber said he will not edit his post until he meets with a defense attorney. He is also seeking a civil attorney to file suit against both departments.
However, a probation violation can land him in prison for up to five years, so he needs all the help he can get.
For those of you interested in reading my appeal brief and the ensuing arguments between the prosecutor and myself as well as the final decision stemming from my 2007 arrest, the one that led to the launching of this blog where I was acquitted of all charges except resisting arrest without violence, click on the following links from the top down.