After a whirlwind of legal battles in criminal and civil court, Peaceful Streets founder Antonio Buehler is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court to take on the Austin Police Department.
On Thursday, the last two of four charges from Austin police against Buehler were dropped by the Austin City Attorney’s Office.
But on Friday, Buehler’s ongoing civil suit against Austin PD was dismissed in a controversial decision.
However, Buehler is “excited to appeal it.”
“We have waited three years for justice, and we are willing to wait even longer to expose APD for the crime they have covered up,” Buehler said in an interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
“I hope that all of these trials will eventually allow us to make the Peaceful Streets Project a sustainable organization that is able to thrive without me.”
Buehler’s lawsuit details the violation of his rights on three separate occasions by Austin police, incidents which led to criminal charges against him.
Buehler had been set to face a criminal trial today on one of the charges, “failure to obey a lawful order,” after being arrested on August 26, 2012, for filming an arrest in downtown Austin. Officer Justin Berry walked up to Buehler, told him to back up, and arrested him for “interference with public duties,” a charge that was no-billed by a grand jury and replaced with Failure to Obey a Lawful Order. The officer who arrested Buehler, Justin Berry, was exposed as a plainclothes officer by Buehler two nights prior as Berry tried to bust underage girls for drinking alcohol. After that incident, Berry tried to paint Buehler as a “domestic extremist” liable to commit an act of terrorism, similar to the way law enforcement has tried to label PINAC’s Jeff Gray a “sovereign citizen.” Austin police later attempted to have Buehler charged with Online Impersonation for a satirical Facebook post mocking the police’s penchant for shooting dogs.
A second charge of Failure to Obey a Lawful Order – ginned up by Sergeant Adam Johnson on September 21, 2012, after Buehler filmed Austin police officers on duty – was also dropped on Thursday. Austin city attorneys chose not to pursue the charges after dismissing a third charge in January and failing to land a prosecution on a fourth charge last October, when Buehler was found not guilty after recording a violent arrest despite an officer falsely reporting that Buehler spat in his face.
“I never should have been charged in the first place, and if they cared about integrity or the law at the City Attorney’s Office, they would have dropped all the charges against me the moment they received them and then filed charges against the police officers who violated my rights,” said Buehler.
“However, I am glad that I no longer have charges hanging over my head. I hope that some of the people who reflexively support the police can use my case to come to the realization that not only do police officers sometimes commit crimes, but oftentimes those criminal cops then benefit from a chain of command and prosecutors who conspire against their victims to cover up their crimes.”
As for why Buehler’s lawsuit against Austin PD was dismissed on Friday, “The short answer regarding the civil suit is that the federal judge had to follow the (bad) law set forth by the Fifth Circuit,” explained Millie Thompson, Buehler’s attorney. “The judge acknowledges that Antonio’s case would proceed to trial in other circuits. There is, therefore, a circuit-split that requires the Supreme Court to address and fix.”
“Prior precedent in the 5th Circuit claims that if someone is indicted they lose all claims to sue police for misconduct or abuse,” said Buehler. “It is a ridiculous ruling which means that corrupt prosecutors can cover for corrupt cops by getting any indictment, no matter how violent or illegal the arrest was. For example, I am a cop and I beat and shoot you because I am racist – but then I justify that by arresting you for assaulting me. Well, maybe that isn’t such a good excuse because of video evidence, so the prosecutor can then have you indicted for failure to obey a lawful order (which I was indicted on three times), and voila! – you can’t sue the city. The 5th Circuit is the only circuit with such an absurd ruling, while the 2nd, 8th and 11th all have said that such an argument is not grounds to dismiss a civil suit.
We are in this for the long haul. We expect this to go to the Supreme Court and we expect to eventually have our trial in civil court where the corrupt cops and the city must defend their actions.”
In a statement ignoring how Buehler’s case was dismissed on a specious legal technicality, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo issued a statement after Friday’s ruling, stating “We are pleased with the Court’s decision in this case and we continue to support citizens who wish to film police activity in a legal manner without interfering in our officers’ activities or refusing to comply with lawful orders. Proof of our commitment to this philosophy can be found in the large number of videos covering our officers’ actions that are posted on social media sites.”
Contrary to the proof of positive policing that Acevedo claimed, another video uploaded to YouTube last weekend showed an officer throwing a man to the ground while another officer in the video refused to identify himself. That video is below. Austin police also popped up in the news after a woman sued the department this month for putting a bag over her head, strapping her to a chair and using “choke hold pressure points” to draw her blood for a DUI test.
Asked whether the Austin police was respecting the rights of cop watchers, Buehler said, “They haven’t arrested one of us in a while, which is a positive step forward. We don’t know how long that will last. They certainly don’t respect our rights though, and our volunteers know that they continue to risk their life and liberty every time they pick up a camera to film police.”
Buehler also had a message especially for PINAC readers:
“We appreciate that the police accountability movement has entered into the mainstream consciousness over the past half year or so. Unfortunately it took some high profile incidents of cops killing unarmed people. I hope that those who care about police abuse, corruption, and violence will continue to push hard to keep up the momentum. If we allow this opportunity to slip away, and if we don’t support all of the great people who are on the front lines, we may not see another opportunity to move society forward in a meaningful way for many years to come.”
Buehler also had an appeal of a disorderly conduct charge against him set for trial this month in Gonzales, Texas, after being assessed a one dollar fine for cursing at a police officer. The appeal was declared a mistrial after a judicial error and has been reset for March 30.