A group of South Florida filmmakers who were violently arrested for video recording from a public observation deck on a beach last year produced an impressive investigative documentary of their ordeal, documenting everything from their arrest to the ensuing coverup by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office where authorities went as far as intimidating a business owner into getting rid of a surveillance video camera that had captured the incident as well as deleting footage from cameras they had confiscated from the men.
Yes, the same Broward Sheriff’s Office whose attorney, Ron Gunzburger, sat on a panel with me earlier this year, proclaiming that all its deputies were properly trained in recognizing our right to record in public, only to be proven wrong a day later by Jeff Gray.
However, this video is much more infuriating than Gray’s video, guaranteed to get your blood pressure soaring for the entire 22 minutes. It’s definitely worth the time to view it.
On November, 3 2013 at 9 p.m., they were recording a video on the observation deck at Deerfield Beach, a municipality in Broward County, when they were confronted by Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Brenden Hays, who is already on the Brady List stemming from an incident that left a person dead.
According to public records from the Broward County State Attorney’s Office, Hays was placed on the Brady List in September 25, 2013, less than six weeks before the incident with the film crew because he is the “subject of a Grand Jury Review wherein a person died as a result of police action.”
The South Florida Sun Sentinel explains what it means to be on the Brady List:
This list, called the “Brady list,” is 22 pages of officers who are under criminal investigation or have been convicted of crimes, or are under investigation in a police involved shooting.
The State Attorney’s Office sends it out to the defense attorneys in cases where these officers are witnesses. The officers on the Brady list are perceived as having credibility issues as witnesses in cases they were involved in, assistant state attorney Tim Donnelly said.
“We do it because it’s good for our prosecutors and it’s good to cover the cases,” he said, “because the attorneys where he is a witness, if he testifies they’re going to claim he’s biased, that he is going to tailor his testimony in our favor to generate a benefit so we won’t prosecute him.”
Officers under internal investigation by their departments are not on it, unless it’s a criminal accusation that’s been forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office.
In other words, if a cop is on the Brady List, he is likely a proven liar whose testimony carries no credibility.
But on that night, Hays was so sure of himself that he accused them of recording without a film permit, which is required of high-end film productions involving movies, television documentaries and commercials, not journalists or anybody not using “set scenery, casts or models” as you can read from the county ordinance below.
Sec. 20-261. – Permit required.
(a) No person, firm, corporation or association shall take still or moving pictures that involve the use of special settings, structures or apparatus, or the performance of a cast of persons, either amateur or professional or the posing of professional models, on property owned by or under control of Broward County without first having obtained a permit from the county administrator or his designee.
(b) The provisions of this article shall not apply to nor in any way restrict the use of cameras by amateur or professional photographers not using set scenery, casts or models. This article shall also not apply to bona fide newspaper, press association, newsreel or television news media personnel.
Hays also accused them of trespassing because they were on the observation deck after sunset, but there were no signs posted forbidding entry to the observation deck – until they magically appeared within a week after the arrest.
Also, an online search through the Deerfield Beach municipal codes show that on the night of the arrest, the observation deck was not listed among the public parks that are only open from dawn to dusk.
But two days after the arrest, the observation deck was added to the list of 24 city parks that shut down after sunset as you can see in two screenshots, one dated June 18, 2013 that did not list the observation deck under the strict guidelines of operations, the other from November 5, 2013 that did list the observation deck.
Deerfield Beach city commission minutes indicate the observation deck was added to the existing sunrise to sunset parks on August 20, but it wasn’t until after the arrest that city officials made an effort to inform the public.
So it’s understandable why the men believed the deputies did not have a reasonable suspicion that they were committing a crime, which is why they refused to provide their identifications, which is what angered the deputies.
The deputies also did not appreciate the fact that the men were recording them with several cameras, claiming they were in fear for their lives.
Here is one exchange that took place:
Deputy: “Put that down.”
Crew member: “No, I’m going to keep this with me. This is for my safety, sir. This is just a camera.”
Deputy: “Yeah, and it can be used as a weapon, too”
Crew member: “Oh, absolutely not.”
That deputy then kicked over a $7,000 camera that they had set on the deck, which was pointed in the direction of the group, prompting one of the crew members to reach out for the camera in an attempt to protect it.
But that, of coursed, caused the deputy to fear for his life, so he picked up the man and body slammed him.
That action prompted another crew member to reach into his pocket for his phone to begin recording, but that caused another deputy to fear for his life, which led to him pouncing on the man and handcuffing him while yelling in the typical steroid-fueled cop growl that’s supposed to make us fall to our knees.
“You reached in your fucking pocket! Don’t reach in your pocket!”
They were all transported to the sheriff’s office where they were placed in a holding cell. All but Ace Barros, the oldest of the group and owner of most of the camera equipment, were released on citations that they had violated the film permit code.
Barros was transported to the county jail on several charges, including trespassing, obstructing, resisting, refusal to provide a name and filming without a permit.
“The other guys had their identifications on them, so they were able to identify them at the station. I had my ID in the car, so they took me to jail as John Doe,” Barros said in an interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
The deputies kept all their equipment for more than six weeks, even though the men kept returning to the station daily to retrieve it. Finally, they had to obtain a court order to have their equipment returned.
But even then, deputies maintained possession of the memory cards, which took another month before they were returned. And even then, the footage from one had been deleted. When they tried to recover it, they said the footage was somehow altered.
But the footage that survived is damning as it is, showing the aggression, the taunts and the body slam on Pedro “Dro” Anjos, who is about half the size of the bullying deputy who claimed to be in fear for his life.
When Barros was released from jail, he returned to the scene and started taking pictures, photographing a surveillance camera at the restaurant that most likely captured the incident.
But a few days later, the surveillance camera was not only gone, but the city of Deerfield Beach had posted signs stating that the observation deck closes at dusk, which is strange considering the adjoining restaurant, the Deerfield Beach Cafe, was up until January, open 24 hours.
When the crew returned to the restaurant to inquire about the camera, they were told that city officials had ordered them to remove it because it was a code violation, probably the unwritten code of silence that frowns upon transparency.
The manager of the restaurant did not want to elaborate to the men on camera and did not provide the footage from that night to the film crew, obviously knowing he would be retaliated against.
The fact that deputy Hays is on the Brady List probably explains why he never attended any of the hearings, including the one for the men cited for not having a permit as well as the trial where Barros was facing several misdemeanors.
In fact, Hays never even bothered documenting into the legal system the citations for the men accused of filming without a permit, so when they showed up to the hearing listed on the citation, nobody had a clue who they were.
Hays also claimed on his arrest report that the
arrest took place after midnight (it was written in military time, 2123, which is 9:23 p.m., and I had a dyslexic moment) when it took place shortly after 9 p.m. And he claimed that the hours of the observation deck are from sunrise to sunset, but at the time, no effort had been made to inform the public about this recent development.
Now that they are cleared of all charges, Porras is looking for a civil rights attorney to file suit against the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org at if you’re an attorney interesting in speaking to him.