January 13th, 2010

Caribbean crackdown 0

By Carlos Miller

This is how it works in countries where photography is not protected under the First Amendment.

Two uniformed cops in an unmarked car pull over a taxi van and confront a passenger inside, dragging him outside where one of the officers pulls out a gun and fires twice.

Meanwhile, a 17-year-old student is recording the incident on his cell phone camera.

The officers spot the boy and demand he hand over the camera. The kid refuses. The cops grab him by the neck and hit him with the butt of a gun as the other officer puts the original suspect in the back seat of the cop car.

The second officer then joins the first officer in beating the kid with the camera.

“Stop beating me, leave me alone. Stop choking me, I can’t breathe,” the boy, Dillion Fraser, cries.

The officers shove him into the front seat of the cop car as he struggles against them. The kid is eventually released to his father who is a retired cop.

The incident occurred last week in Trinidad, according to a local newspaper (which doesn’t specify whether the initial suspect was struck by a bullet when the cop fired).

But we’ve seen it happen in this country plenty of times.

And while Trinidad might not have a First Amendment, they do have laws that protect photographers. Supposedly. Just as we do here. Supposedly.

Yesterday, attorney Gregory Delzin criticised the police for how they manhandled Fraser.

He said the officers acted in “an illegal manner.”

“The police have no authority to seize a person’s cellphone because they are video taping their actions.

Police only have criminal jurisdiction and the power to seize evidence of a crime and video taping a policeman in any action whether legal or illegal is not a crime.

Seizure of those items under those circumstances could amount to theft,” Delzin said.

Delzin also commended Fraser. “I think a young man like Dillon Fraser needs to be commended and the community needs to support young people like him, who have the courage to be video taping illegal conduct of any lawman, and it is the duty of the Police Service to ensure that persons who wish to be witnesses are encouraged and not intimidated by officers of the service.”

January 12th, 2010

Police increasingly use false wiretapping charges to prevent video recordings 0

By Carlos Miller

A South Florida model films a cop who is threatening to arrest her son and she gets arrested on felony charges.

An Oregon man films a cop who is roughing up his mentally ill friend and he gets arrested on felony charges.

And a Boston man films a cop arresting a drug suspect and he gets arrested on felony charges.

These are only a handful of people in this country who have been arrested in recent years on felony charges after doing something that is protected under the First Amendment.

Their charges? Illegal wiretapping or eavesdropping, a charge that never fails to get thrown out before reaching court. But by then, the damage is done. Their rights have been trampled on and police rarely get punished for making such unlawful arrests.

An article this week in the Boston Globe highlighted such arrests in the Boston area, but anybody who reads this blog knows these types of arrests occur on too much of a frequent basis around the country.

There are no hard statistics for video recording arrests. But the experiences of Surmacz and Glik highlight what civil libertarians call a troubling misuse of the state’s wiretapping law to stifle the kind of street-level oversight that cellphone and video technology make possible.

“The police apparently do not want witnesses to what they do in public,’’ said Sarah Wunsch, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who helped to get the criminal charges against Surmacz dismissed.

The laws on illegal wiretapping vary from state to state, but one thing is clear in all states. A person must have had an expectation of privacy in order to become a victim.

In other words, if you are filming a cop in public, that cop does not have an expectation of privacy. Especially if that cop sees your camera.

For more information, check out the Field Guide to Secret Audio and Video Recordings.

January 12th, 2010

Judge recuses himself; trial will be rescheduled 0

By Carlos Miller


If only I had a camera, I would have captured the look on Judge Jose L. Fernandez’s face when my attorney asked him to recuse himself from my case.

Well actually I did have a camera. It’s rare for me not to have one. But I wasn’t going to push my luck in his courtroom. Not after our history.

But even before it got to that point, my attorney, Arnold Trevilla, asked for the case to be dismissed because the arresting officer had not shown up.

Miami Beach Police Officer David Socarras claimed to be sick, just as Miami Police Officer Anthonius Kurver claimed to be sick on a trial date of my previous case.

Had it been me who was sick, I would have needed a doctor’s note or else be faced with an arrest warrant.

But police officers have a lot more credibility than me and you. At least in certain courtrooms.

When asked to recuse himself, Judge Fernandez acted confused, claiming he had not read the appeal mandate, asking if he was required by the appellate court to do so.

He then recused himself. Otherwise we would have filed a motion to have him recused.

The trial will be rescheduled in front of another judge. I am also facing a different prosecutor than Ignacio Vazquez, who is considered one of the top prosecutors by his peers.

So that’s good because I don’t know if I could afford another Pyrrhic victory.

January 11th, 2010

Activist video reveals study in contrasts in a pair of Tennessee cops 0

By Carlos Miller

Just over a year ago, a 60-foot dam broke in a power plant in Tennessee, dumping more than a billion gallons of toxic coal ash into a nearby river and community in Roane County.

But the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally owned corporation that owns the power plant, has insisted that coal ash is no more toxic than dirt. And it has done nothing to clean up the spill.

Meanwhile, residents report a wide range of health problems, including nose-bleeds, coughs and headaches. And the arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium that have been found in the coal ash has previously been linked to cancer, liver damage and nervous system disorders.

Last year, 60 Minutes did an extensive segment on the disaster and the failure of the Tennessee Valley Authority to remedy the situation as well as its denial that coal ash is toxic.

So in comes the United Mountain Defense, a civilian activist group that is striving to help the residents of Roane County by collecting data and samples in the area to be tested.

Last year the group was invited on the property of one of the residents to test the air with air monitoring devices.

Within minutes after setting up the air monitors, police officers from the Roane County Police Department as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority swarmed on the property and began hassling the UMD members.

At one point, as can be seen in the above video, a cigar-chewing ignoramus of a cop demands to see a picture identification of one of the UMD members. The UMD member hands the cop a U.S. Passport, which anybody with any sense knows it is an acceptable form of identification anywhere in this country.

But the cop acts like he has never seen a passport before. And he continues to demand “a picture ID.” When informed that the passport is a picture ID, the cop then demands a driver license. But the man tells the officer that he is not driving and that the passport is a valid picture ID.

The cop, whose name is Robert Childs, according to a comment on the Youtube video, then snatches the man’s camera and orders the air monitors to be taken down.

The situation was apparently resolved by another cop who doesn’t come across as abrasive as Childs, telling the UMD members that they have “been nothing but peaceful to us.”

The cops eventually leave without further incident.

If anything, the video shows a startling contrast between police personalities.

On one hand, you have the abrasive sonofabitch who escalates a peaceful situation and appears to have an IQ of an ant. And on the other hand, you have an officer who at least seems to have a sense of professionalism and basic people skills.

If if weren’t for that officer, no telling how that situation would have turned out.

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