California Cop Panics Over Cell Phone Camera, Thinking it Could be a Gun


A California cop who was being video recorded by a smartphone said she was in fear for her life because the phone could have possibly been a gun, marking at least the fourth time this year a cop in this country has uttered those nonsensical words.

After all, if Detective Shannon Todd of the Newark Police Gang Unit was really so stupid to believe that the phone could have been a gun, then why did she first order the citizen to place it back into his pocket?

Newark Police Detective Shannon Todd demanding a man’s cell phone so she can ensure it’s not a gun.

The truth is, she feared being the victim of a viral Youtube video instead of a fatal bullet, which is why she ordered the citizen to place his hands behind his back.

The video was uploaded to Youtube April 30 and reposted on ExCopLawStudent’s blog earlier this month. As of this writing, it only has 212 views, but that is likely to change once it starts making the rounds.

The trend of insinuating cell phones can be guns began earlier this year when Juan “Biggie” Santana had his Sony Bloggie confiscated by Hialeah police officer  Antonio Sentmanat in South Florida.

It continued when San Diego police officer Martin Reinhold slapped a phone out of Adam Pringle’s hands and arrested him while writing him a citation for smoking a cigarette on a beach boardwalk.

Then again in Arkansas when a cop ripped an iPhone out of a man’s hands who had been trying to document the Exxon oil spill outside Little Rock.

Reinhold told Pringle that he had specifically been trained to assume cell phones could be guns, which is apparently a training lesson being taught at police departments throughout the country.

And it’s obviously a tactic meant to dissuade video recording rather than ensure officer safety because the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a cell phone gun was in an outdated bulky phone with an antenna sticking out, as you can see in the video below.


In fact, that weapon never even made it to the United States, according to ExCopLawStudent, a former cop turned law student who firmly believes in the right of officers to ensure their safety, but who also understands police paranoia doesn’t override the Constitution.

In 2000 or 2001, police in Europe discovered a four-shot gun disguised as a cellphone.  Since then police officers in the United States have claimed on multiple occasions that civilians who were recording video with their cellphones had to put the phone down.  Why?  Because it could be a weapon.

Geez, guys, you’re killing us.  There have been no cellphone guns recovered in the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.  None.  Zero.  Nada. Zilch.

In addition, there are exactly zero court cases that discuss the issue.  As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the legal world that discuss the issue.  No law review articles, no trial or appellate briefs, nothing.

The truth is, as cell phones have gotten slimmer and smaller and smarter, bullets have remained the same size, so it would be almost impossible to turn a smartphone into a gun.

Although there apparently is a case where a gun was disguised to look like a camera as you can see in the image below, which was submitted to the PINAC forums by Jeff Gray.



The fact is, guns can be concealed in almost anything these days, including wallets, umbrellas and keychains, but we haven’t seen any cases where police are fearing their lives over those items.

But we’ve seen plenty of cases of police fearing the camera without ever insinuating it could be a gun.

In the above Newark case, the citizen continues recording after the cops verified the phone was not a gun until he was ordered away or be arrested for interfering.


About Carlos Miller

Carlos Miller is founder and publisher of Photography is Not a Crime, which began as a one-man blog in 2007 to document his trial after he was arrested for photographing police during a journalistic assignment. He is also the author of The Citizen Journalist's Photography Handbook, which can be purchased through Amazon.

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  • Phred

    “It might be weapon” is the new tactic being taught to cops who need a legal excuse to order someone to stop recording. It’s no different than cops who yell “stop resisting” even when the person they are handcuffing isn’t resisting. By yelling it, it gives them a legal excuse to use more force than necessary to secure the arrest. I have no doubt that this these two tactics are being taught in police departments across the country.

    • Jeffrey Marcus Gray

      Sounds like I need to some how get a camera inside a police academy.

      • Tom Jankowski

        Sounds like a job for Michael Moore.

      • Difdi

        It’s not taught in the academy. It’s taught to rookie officers by experienced officers during their first days on the job. That’s how corruption begins.

  • Harry Balzanya

    if the officer was engaging a in consensual stop what authority did they have to order anyone to do anything? What articulable suspicion and what crime authorized these officers to legally detain people and order people who are lawfully present to leave. Youths sitting in a public park is NOT a crime neither is photography.

    • Difdi

      Pointing a firearm at police (or anyone) legally justifies an act of self-defense in return.

      The courts supposedly judge whether that use of force in self-defense was appropriate but many courts simply rubber stamp police use of force without much if any scrutiny.

      But it can backfire on officers if the practice of deliberately accidentally confusing cameras and guns gets widespread, since self-defense is a right shared by everyone, not restricted to police officers. Courts have ruled that even when resisting arrest is unlawful, resisting excessive force (particularly deadly force, and pointing a firearm counts as such) is lawful.

      If pointing an object that could be (but isn’t) a firearm justifies use of force, then it justifies use of force for everyone, not just police. If this latest abuse of authority spreads far enough, expect to hear about police being shot in “self-defense” because they had any particular object in hand when they turned towards a citizen.

  • William Woodrome

    this Newark California here is the 2 officers Phone numbers and badge numbers Email

    Heckman Tony Bdg#12 SET Detective 578-4952

    Todd Shannon Bdg# 81 SET Detective 578-4289

    • Carlos_Miller

      Thanks, just corrected it.

  • 9oby

    This is Newark, CA, not NJ.

    • peck2

      It does not matter where this particular obscenity occurred. All so-called LEO’s are stupid and dangerous. Far too stupid to be armed. Drop your camera and draw you gun and use it. This corruption can be quelled only by their elimination.

  • rick

    It’s quite clear what she was trying to do so I sent links for two DOJ letters to Ms Todd and received the auto reply below.

    “Date 2013-05-21 17:17:51
    I am currently out of the office and will return on 05-21-2013. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Detective Heckman at 510-578-4952. Thank you.”

  • Tijuana Joe

    This will become the new approach towards being filmed, by police.
    The spurious Eavesdropping charge was too heavy and never panned out in court,
    and raised the specter of Malicious Prosecution. so cops will take refuge in the absurd “camera gun” suspicion in order to avoid accountability.

    That’s how seriously they fear being captured on tape.

  • Proud GrandPa

    So what were these officers doing? Why did they stop? What was the point of all this?
    Surely the officers had no reasonable suspicion that the cell phone guy was committing a crime. Why then did they stop and talk?
    If I were a police manager or city council member, I would like answers. I’d educate my officers not to do this to law-abiding citizens. There are more than enough crooks in New Jersey to run down.

  • hazy

    Newark’s a nice place. Cops are most likely instructed to hassle the young minority kids. The DA and judges back up the cops. Unfortunate but that’s reality.

  • Difdi

    Even the wimpiest .22 short or .17 HMR cartridge is longer than a modern cellphone is thick. If you did have a cellphone gun and were aiming the camera lens at an officer, any hidden gun barrel would be aimed straight up at the sky.

    But here’s the thing. Aiming a weapon at someone without justification, whether you are an officer or a private citizen is excessive force, and courts have ruled that self-defense against excessive force can be legal even when resisting arrest is not.

    Pointing a gun at random people is sufficient threat for them to draw a weapon (if they have one) and open fire, and the courts will usually consider it lawful self-defense. It’s almost always considered a justified use of force if the person who opens fire in that circumstance is a police officer. But self-defense is not limited to police.

    If anything can conceal a gun then pointing anything at anyone justifies your death. This isn’t legally the case and it’s not supposed to be. But given that you can lawfully defend yourself against excessive force by police in a fair number of places, this latest tactic could backfire badly on police officers.

  • Steve

    Cops see people using smart phones all the time in public. It’s funny how cops never seem to be concerned that the device is a weapon when people are using it as a phone or as an internet device. It’s only when the citizen uses the camera function of the phone that the officer suddenly becomes concerned it may be weapon.

  • nope

    The greater danger here is giving a badge and a gun to a person who is incapable of distinguishing between a gun and a phone. Why aren’t these people weeded out in the entrance exam?

    • peck2

      Since they are too stupid to know the difference between a camera and a gun, go ahead and draw your gun and use it. Or would you rather be beaten to death because They “feared for their safety”? I don’t give a damn for their safety. I care about mine.

  • El Guapo

    Now here’s a link talking about the first motion picture camera being a 12fps ‘rifle’. Even though times have definitely changed, it seems the ignorance of today’s officers is still trapped at an 1882 education level.

  • peck2

    These costumed,badged,armed thugs are stupid and dangerous. Your camera will not save you from being beaten and murdered by them. Drop your cameras and draw your firearms and use them to protect yourselves. Until We take several of them down, they will continue their murderous actions. Wake up folks. S0-called LEO’s are the enemy and must be exterminated.

    • ExCop-Lawyer

      You first.

      • peck2

        I will be happy to be the first.

  • Funske Lambaer

    Another one

    Claims to have personally seen a phone gun. Hmmm…..

  • Arocks Puvugian

    Nowhere in this video are there any “rights” being violated. Why can’t the dummie just let the cop see the phone; take it back; then keep on recording; unless this was a set up against the cops from the git go. I like the gangbangers in the background with their faces covered.

  • Augustus Gustavius Salvatore C

    Wait Wait what will the story be with Google glasses ???? Looks like what ? Smashed and ground into the concrete while *resisting arrest*…….. GGs need a new feature… combat hardening. 99guspuppet