A New York district attorney accused a citizen journalist of stalking a Syracuse police officer by recording him from across the street last week, prompting the cop to walk across the street, punch him in the face and arrest him in a video that ended up going viral.
The only problem is, the evidence on that video does not match the “harassment” charge as it is described in the New York statute.
For that charge to stick, Syracuse police officer Vallon Smith needed to feel “a reasonable fear of physical injury” from cop watching activist Maurice “Mo” Crawley.
And Crawley is part of an organization called OGs Against Violence, whose mission is to stop the violence in Syracuse black communities.
Furthermore, there is nothing in the video that indicates Smith was in fear for his safety as he stormed across the street and attacked Crawley for recording.
There is also nothing in the video that indicates Crawley made “tornado” comments to Smith, but none of that seemed to matter for Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick in a press conference Friday.
According to Syracuse.com:
In a criminal complaint filed after the arrest, Smith wrote that Crawley had been “increasingly appearing” at Smith’s traffic stops and investigations.
“The defendant shouts at this officer, calling out my last name, stating the ‘tornado’ is coming and threatening lawsuits against this officer,” Smith said.
In the July 28 video Crawley livestreamed to Facebook, Crawley stands across the street while officers handcuffed and searched a man.
Smith, at one point in the video, shouted at Crawley to keep quiet. When Crawley replied that he could not hear him, Smith crossed the street and told Crawley to put out his hands.
The camera then swung toward tress, powerlines and the sky. The remainder of the video contains audio.
“Don’t (expletive) move, you understand me?” an officer said. “Don’t you (expletive) move, I’m a (expletive) you up.”
If anybody was in fear for their safety, it was Crawley who reacted in shock to being attacked as he had broken no law by standing across the street, recording Smith making an arrest on a drug suspect.
Crawley did not even speak to Smith, speaking only to his viewers as he live streamed the video, well out of earshot of the officer.
After Smith had placed handcuffs on the suspect and ordered him to sit on the curb, he opened the passenger side of his patrol car, then looked across the street to Crawley, who was silently recording.
“Hey, say one word, your ass is going to jail, just so you know,” the cop informed Crawley from across the street.
“I didn’t hear you, say it again, officer,” Crawley responded, a genuine question considering there were two lanes of ongoing traffic in between them.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
But the cop slammed his door and stormed across the street, pouncing on Crawley.
“Don’t fucking move, understand me,” the cop says. “Don’t fucking move or I’m going to fuck you up.”
Crawley informs the cop that he has a defibrillator on his chest, but the cop was not concerned about that at all.
“I told you to stop fucking coming around here,” the cop said.
Smith initially charged Crawley with obstruction and resisting arrest, but those charges were dismissed by Fitzpatrick, who then charged Crawley with harassment.
According to New York Statute 240.25, which describes harassment in the first degree.
A person is guilty of harassment in the first degree when he or she
intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following such
person in or about a public place or places or by engaging in a course
of conduct or by repeatedly committing acts which places such person in
reasonable fear of physical injury. This section shall not apply to
activities regulated by the national labor relations act, as amended,
the railway labor act, as amended, or the federal employment labor
management act, as amended.
Fitzpatrick said Smith was also wrong to handle the incident as he did, but not enough for him to file criminal charges against him.
Instead, he will leave it up to Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler.
“He made a mistake,” Fitzpatrick said. “He overreacted, and he will suffer the consequences…with Chief Fowler.”
Fitzpatrick then proceeded to attack Crawley’s character by bringing up his past arrests. Crawley, 52, has renounced his past and is now focusing on trying to keep young black men in Syracuse from leading a life of crime.
The DA said Smith is a veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan.
Contrasting Smith to Crawley, Fitzpatrick tossed a stack of papers he said was Crawley’s rap sheet on the table in front of his lectern. He questioned the motives of Crawley, who often shows up at shooting scenes to protest violence.
Fitzpatrick said he believes Crawley cares as much about gang violence as Fitzpatrick said he does about the next episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
The DA also compared Crawley to Smith.
“If I was ever in a foxhole and the choice was given to me as to whether I wanted Maurice Crawley sitting next to me, who would probably steal my wallet, or whether I wanted Officer Vallon Smith sitting next to me, the answer is painfully obvious to everyone,” Fitzpatrick said.
What is painfully obvious to anybody reading this and watching the video is that Fitzpatrick is trying to set a precedent by criminalizing the act of citizen journalism.
UPDATE: Syracuse District Attorney William Fitzpatrick wrote a column for the local newspaper insisting that the charges against Crawley have nothing to do with recording police.