A news reporter caught Albuquerque police officer Stephanie Lopez on camera roughing up a teenager outside a nightclub last year, so Lopez did what came natural to her.
She confiscated the reporter’s camera, took it home with her, scanned through the footage and deleted the incriminating clip that showed her shoving the teen through a barrier.
Then she returned the camera to KOB-TV reporter Cristina Rodda, thinking she had solved the issue.
But Rodda found a forensics specialist who not only recovered the footage, but determined the footage was deleted while it was in Lopez’s possession.
Rodda also discovered that Lopez never entered the camera as evidence in the police department.
Now Rodda is suing Lopez and the Albuquerque Police Department for destruction of evidence, something police officers throughout the country do with alarming regularity with little or no disciplinary action taken against them.
“If a citizen would have done that, they would have been charged,” said Rodda’s attorney, B.J. Crow, in a phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Friday.
“Such as our system, cops get away with a lot.”
Crow said they will make the video public within a month.
“The video shows officer Lopez throwing this kid to the ground and pushing him through a barrier, which is why she didn’t want the video getting out to the public,” he said.
The incident took place last year as Rodda was working on a story about nightclubs.
Lopez was in full uniform but working security for the club, meaning she was on their payroll. She already had a history of demonstrating abusive behavior.
After Rodda recorded Lopez shoving the teen, a club manager ordered the reporter to leave the premises, which she began doing.
But Lopez called her back, searched through her bag without consent or probable cause, then confiscated her camera, citing Rodda with trespassing, a charge she beat in court.
Rodda, who is no longer a reporter, works as a spokesperson for the state Corrections Department. Lopez was supposedly disciplined after she was investigated by internal affairs.
According to the lawsuit:
Officer Lopez then demanded to Plaintiff that she was taking the video camera for “evidence”.
Officer Lopez then confiscated the video camera.
Officer Lopez took the video camera home instead of tagging it into evidence.
Officer Lopez admitted she viewed the video in her home.
Officer Lopez admitted she never tagged the “evidence” into evidence at APD.
Three days later, the video was returned to KOB.
However, the video clip with the kid being thrown down in police brutality was deleted.
An independent expert reviewed the video camera and was able to recover the deleted clip of the kid being thrown down.
The expert determined that the clip was deleted while the camera was in Officer Lopez’s possession.
Thus, Officer Lopez tampered with evidence.
Here are a few incidents of cops deleting footage or ordering citizens under threat of arrest to delete footage that I’ve documented on this blog over the years, including from my last two arrests.
- Miami-Dade police deleted a video clip from my camera after Major Nancy Perez arrested me for obstruction of justice and resisting arrest. I recovered the video, which will be entered as evidence in my upcoming trial. I will also use that video as evidence in the civil suit I will file once I get cleared of the criminal charges.
- Miami Beach police deleted several photos after they had handcuffed me for photographing them against their wishes in 2009. I recovered the photos and had my charges dismissed when the cop did not show up to court.
- Springfield (Massachusetts) police confiscated a woman’s phone last year after she recorded them pulling a man out of his car and dragging him away in handcuffs. When they returned it to her two months later, the clip had been deleted. A judge found this act “extremely troubling,” but let it go without further discussion.
- Memphis police confiscated a cell phone camera from an ABC news reporter who had recorded them issuing a ticket to a business owner, deleting the video clip before returning it to him.
- Federal officers in Washington D.C. snatched a flip camera from a man while they were harassing him for photographing the outside of a courthouse, which they described as a “sensitive building.” The federal officers deleted his video footage before returning the camera, telling him he had been violating the wiretapping law.
- Baltimore police deleted footage from a man’s cell phone after he had recorded them making an overly aggressive arrest at the Preakness Stakes in 2010. Christopher Sharp is now suing. The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to the federal judge presiding over the case, reminding him that it is a violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments for police to destroy footage.
- Chicago police deleted footage from the camera of a journalism professor last year after he recorded them making an arrest.
- A Pennsylvania state trooper ordered a man to delete his images after he photographed a nuclear power plant from the side of a public road last year.
- A New York City police officer ordered a man to delete his images after he had photographed an open ATM as well as a Muslim in 2010.
- Maryland police ordered a man to delete his images, threatening him with arrest if he did not comply, after he photographed a fatal traffic accident in 2009.
- Mississippi deputies deleted footage from the camera of Cop Block activists while they were touring the country in an RV in 2009.
- Wisconsin police deleted images from a student’s camera after he had photographed them making arrests in front of a bar in 2009.
- Chicago police arrested a photographer, then deleted more than 500 images he had taken of a crime scene, before returning it to him upon his release. He recovered the images.
- Oklahoma state troopers handcuffed a man, then placed him in the back of a patrol car while they deleted his images after he photographed them conducting a traffic investigation stemming from a high-speed chase in 2008. He later recovered the photos.
- A Coral Gables cop deleted a photo from the camera of a woman after she had photographed him sitting on a motorcycle talking on his cell phone. She later recovered the photo.
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CARLOS MILLER’S LEGAL DEFENSE FUND
I am immersed in a legal case where I not only want to clear my criminal charges stemming from my arrest in January, but I want to sue the Miami-Dade Police Department for deleting my footage, which I was able to recover.
My goal is to set some type of precedent to ensure this does not happen as often as it does today where cops simply get away with it.
So if you would like to contribute, please click on the “donate” button below and contribute whatever you can afford.
You can also contribute to my Legal Defense Fund by purchasing a photographer rights lens cloth and/or laminated card to wear around your neck like a press badge through Zap Rag.Please write “carlos3” in the comments section of the Paypal transaction to ensure I receive a portion of the sale.