Standing on a public sidewalk outside the Santa Clara Police Department in Northern California, a man in flip-flops was surrounded by four police officers and told he could be a terrorist for recording the parking lot, then questioned if he needed medical assistance, insinuating that he may be mentally ill or worse, suicidal.
The two videos documenting the incident were posted to YouTube on Thursday by the user “Cop BlockBayArea.”
Two minutes into recording, as the man stood on the sidewalk outside the police parking lot recording video in broad daylight, an officer pulling out of the lot waved to the man as he stood outside the restricted area. Nothing to see here.
Three minutes later, another officer leaving the lot saw the man recording, stopped and called in three other officers for backup.
“Hi. Can I ask you what you’re doing? You can take as many pictures as you want, I just want to know what you’re doing,” asked the first officer on the scene. “Do you need some help? Mind if I take your picture?”
After asking if he was being detained, the cop watcher remained silent until another officer threatened to “help” the man with an ambulance.
“Do you need medical attention sir, do you want me to call you an ambulance?” asked a second officer with an expression of anger on his face. “How ’bout I call you an ambulance cause something tells me you’re not of sound mind right now. You feel like hurting yourself right now or anything? Anybody else? Ok. Trying to help you.”
Having been subtly threatened – the officer has the power to commit the man to a mental facility via Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code –the cop watcher finally responds, handing one of the officers a paper that likely said something to the effect of, “I exercise my right to remain silent. I am a journalist gathering content for a story.”
“Oh, you’re one of these guys,” said a third officer on the scene, a sergeant, after reading the cop watcher’s written assertion of his rights. The sergeant than tries to defend the need for the four officers surrounding the cop watcher:
“It looks like you’re a firm believer in the Constitution is that true? So are we. So As a believer in the Constituion in this day and age, you can understand why police are concerned about someone coming and videotaping them…Nobody’s arguing with you that you can videotape, my question to you would be you can understand the concerns in this day and age of terorism and hate on the police…our concern of someone videotaping the facility.”
As PINAC noted after a similar incident in Austin recently where police dropped the “terrorism” excuse for detaining a man despite having no reasonable suspicion of a crime, there was no evidence that the man who recently shot at Dallas police ever recorded police, nor has PINAC ever reported on an act of violence against police that was preceded by a man recording police in broad daylight.
With the copwatcher refusing to buy his “terrorism” excuse, the Santa Clara police sergeant dropped his pretense of acting reasonably, acting as if he were going to keep the copwatcher’s written statement of his rights, saying “You gave this to me, I assume I can keep it.”
The four officers then went back to their four taxpayer-funded vehicles and left, having realized that a man with a camera is not a criminal.
Or most likely, this man with a camera knew his rights.
Later, another officer leaving the station also questioned the cop watcher, and tried to play good cop, asking, “Are you upset with the police or something?”
When the officer realized the copwatcher knew the officer was simply looking for incriminating information, he also left.
“They try really hard just to be your friend and try to get information out of you, and you know what you just gotta be cool man,” said the cop watcher. “All I gotta say is don’t give out too much information when you’re filming stuff.”