Ferguson Police May be Held in Contempt of Court for Continuing to Arrest Citizens who Record (Updated II) - PINAC News
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Ferguson Police May be Held in Contempt of Court for Continuing to Arrest Citizens who Record (Updated II)

The video begins with at least seven Ferguson police officers standing in the street, blocking a lane of traffic, with an eighth cop jaywalking across the street, forcing more cars to stop. The cops are facing a group of protesters standing on the sidewalk across the street from the police department, a common occurrence since the shooting death of Michael Brown last year.

Within seconds, the cops move into the group of protesters to begin making arrests, specifically targeting a woman named Deborah Kennedy, a postal worker turned activist who announced she will be running for city council next year.

The cops chase her into the crowd on the sidewalk, obviously singling her out from other protests who were standing in the middle of a side street, grabbing her and twisting her arms behind her back, shoving her into in the main street to continue their arrest.

That was when Scott Kampas, who was documenting the interaction for the National Lawyers Guild, stepped into the street to record the arrest.

Within seconds, police turned to him and arrested him as well.

Ferguson police claim they did not arrest Kampas because he was recording, but because he had stepped into the street.

However, they charged him with  “peace disturbance,” the Missouri version of disorderly conduct, a statute which lists a wide range of arrestable actions, including the following, which most closely pertains to stepping into the street.

(2) Is in a public place or on private property of another without consent and purposely causes inconvenience to another person or persons by unreasonably and physically obstructing:

(a) Vehicular or pedestrian traffic; or

But it’s clear from the video that even though he may have stepped into the street, he did not physically obstruct any vehicles because the cops were already doing that, first, by standing in the street facing off with the protesters, and second, by dragging Kennedy into the street to arrest her. Furthermore, he was not interfering with the arrest in any way.

Kennedy was apparently also arrested on the  same charge, but the video doesn’t show her in the street. If, in fact, she was standing on the side street before the video panned in that direction, then she was one of many people standing there.

But police knew who she was because she has had announced last year during a city council meeting that she would be running in 2016 on a platform of police accountability. So they are just doing what they can to damage her reputation come election time.

Kennedy, who was recording, handed her phone to another protester, prompting cops to demand for it to be returned.

“Give me the phone back,” one cop yells. “That’s Debbie’s phone.”

Kampas also tried handing his camera off to another National Lawyers Guild observer, who make themselves very visible with their light green caps, but a cop forbade it, staying he needed it as “evidence.”

The protest took place on April 14, 2015, a day when protests against police brutality were taking place in various cities throughout the United States, so perhaps Ferguson police didn’t think they would gain the spotlight.

But arresting a city council candidate and a National Lawyers Guild observer is never smart, especially when it is obvious it was more of a contempt of cop arrest than anything else.

And especially because a federal judge specifically ordered Ferguson police last November to stop arresting citizens who record them.

But like many police departments throughout the country who had been given similar orders, the Ferguson Police Department has proven it does not care. After all, it’s not like they’re going to be paying for any potential lawsuits out of their own pockets.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, has also been trying to work with the Ferguson Police Department in educating them about the law, but this is a city abides by its own laws.

Osterreicher emailed the following statement to PINAC:

Despite my emails with the Ferguson Police Department they have yet to avail themselves of the help that I and NPPA have offered with guidelines and training regarding the Constitutional rights of citizens and journalists to photograph and record police performing their official duties in public.

Given the DOJ report and the ongoing negative publicity about police misbehavior in Ferguson, one would think they would be anxious to improve their attitude and policies and avoid these type of incidents. Unfortunately that does not appear to be the case. Like too many other departments such as the Baltimore Police, who just settled a case (Sharp) last year for $250,000, they continue to repeat their mistakes at taxpayer’s expense.

Even the United States Department of Justice noted Ferguson police were not abiding by the court order when it released its scathing report on the agency in early March.

Ferguson USDOJ

After four months of ignoring the judges order, the ACLU of Missouri filed a motion in March, asking the judge to find the city in contempt of court for not abiding by his initial order. But that did nothing to stop police from continuing the arrests as we can see in the video below of Kampas’ arrest.

So on April 27, 2015, the ACLU filed a supplement to its March motion, which included sworn statements from Kampas along with two witnesses, including Allen Singleton, who recorded the video below.

And that supplement along with the prior motion was granted by United States District Judge John A. Ross, who issued the initial order in November, and is now ordering the City of Ferguson to explain in writing why it should not be held in contempt of court for violating his previous order.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Order to Show Cause [41] is GRANTED. Defendant City of Ferguson, Missouri shall show cause in writing, within ten (10) days of the date of this Order, why this matter should not be set for a hearing on whether it should be held in contempt for failing to comply with the November 21, 2014 consent judgment.

Dated this 27th day of April, 2015.

Let’s assume that Ross meant ten working days, which means Monday, May 11, 2015, is the deadline for Ferguson to submit its explanation why it should not be held in contempt.

And let’s not be surprised if they ignore that deadline.

UPDATE: In writing this story, I missed the part that Ferguson has already filed its response a few days ago, so now it’s up to the judge to make a decision.

“He was arrested for violating police instructions for everyone in the area to keep out of the street and remain on the sidewalk, because he jumped into the street rapidly and encroached into the immediate area of an arrest-in-process,” wrote Carl Lumley, a lawyer representing Ferguson, and Stephanie Karr, the city attorney who also served as municipal prosecutor in Ferguson’s heavily criticized municipal court. The Justice Department report on Ferguson found that Karr, who also served as prosecutor in the nearby city of Hazelwood, had a ticket dismissed for Ferguson’s former municipal judge.

Judge John A. Ross

Judge John A. Ross

Lawyers for the city, in a filing this week, described the relatively small daytime demonstration as “highly volatile and hazardous.” They said police officers remained calm “over a lengthy period of time in the face of a constant shower of abuse, striving to protect the demonstrators and vehicle operators.” They claimed there was “no evidence” that police were interfering with demonstrators or those recording demonstrations, and claimed that Kampas “violated the law” by taking a step off the curb.

Miller, the officer who arrested Kampas, said he understood and personally supported the rights of the public to photograph and record police work, but that he arrested Kampas because he saw him “jump off the sidewalk, and rapidly encroach upon the area of arrest” that he was attempting to secure.

“I did not arrest Mr. Kampas for taking video. I arrested him for disorderly conduct, due to his failure to comply with police directions and city ordinances requiring him to stay out of the street,” Miller wrote.

If Judge Ross is like most judges in this country, then he’ll completely buy that excuse because most judges treat cops as if they are gods who are above the law. But if he has respect for the law, the people and even himself, then he will come down hard on Ferguson because it’s obvious they are filled with nothing but contempt for him, the court and the people they are sworn to protect and serve.

UPDATE II: Here is the affidavit from the arresting officer, Mathew Miller.

 

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