Alex Blaze

Man prosecuted for taping police in public

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 30, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Anthony Graber, Maryland, police

It may be difficult to explain why privacy is so important, as Glenn Greenwald writes, but it's not at all that hard for people with power to understand. Normally people's concerns about privacy are dismissed with a "If you're not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about," unless, of course, you're the police. Then people recording you doing your job in public should be thrown in prison:

graber_cop_630.jpgAnthony Graber, a Maryland Air National Guard staff sergeant, faces up to 16 years in prison. His crime? He videotaped his March encounter with a state trooper who pulled him over for speeding on a motorcycle. Then Graber put the video -- which could put the officer in a bad light -- up on YouTube.

It doesn't sound like much. But Graber is not the only person being slapped down by the long arm of the law for the simple act of videotaping the police in a public place. Prosecutors across the U.S. claim the videotaping violates wiretap laws -- a stretch, to put it mildly.

In the Graber case, the trooper also apparently had reason to want to keep his actions off the Internet. He cut Graber off in an unmarked vehicle, approached Graber in plain clothes and yelled while brandishing a gun before identifying himself as a trooper.

Their argument is silly, and the state attorney general already issued an opinion supporting Graber. But the issue here is the fact that the police are even trying to cover up their actions.

Time summarizes the police's argument:

Law enforcement is fighting back. In the case of Graber -- a young husband and father who had never been arrested -- the police searched his residence and seized computers. Graber spent 26 hours in jail even before facing the wiretapping charges that could conceivably put him away for 16 years. (It is hard to believe he will actually get anything like that, however. One point on his side: the Maryland attorney general's office recently gave its opinion that a court would likely find that the wiretap law does not apply to traffic stops.)

Last year, Sharron Tasha Ford was arrested in Florida for videotaping an encounter between the police and her son on a public sidewalk. She was never prosecuted, but in June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida sued the city of Boynton Beach on her behalf, claiming false arrest and violation of her First Amendment rights.

The legal argument prosecutors rely on in police video cases is thin. They say the audio aspect of the videos violates wiretap laws because, in some states, both parties to a conversation must consent to having a private conversation recorded. The hole in their argument is the word "private." A police officer arresting or questioning someone on a highway or street is not having a private conversation. He is engaging in a public act.

Even if these cases do not hold up in court, the police can do a lot of damage just by threatening to arrest and prosecute people. "We see a fair amount of intimidation -- police saying, 'You can't do that. It's illegal,'" says Christopher Calabrese, a lawyer with the ACLU's Washington office. It discourages people from filming, he says, even when they have the right to film.

And here's the video Graber is being prosecuted for:

While Graber was obviously engaged in reckless and illegal behavior out in public for which he should have been taken off the road, the police officer's reaction was questionable.

But even if the police can't suppress this video, their attempts to show they recognize the silliness behind the "If you're not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about" argument. People do make mistakes, and the power to humiliate them and hold them accountable for their actions is a form of power. The people should have the power to humiliate and hold public officials accountable. But when this power acts in the other direction to keep people in line, it makes them paranoid and submissive and behave, always, as if they were in front of a large audience. That's the entire point - to stifle individualism and to make people think that they're always under the threat of being prosecuted or losing their job.

Surveillance is a means of controlling people, and the folks who use surveillance immediately recognize its power, even if the rest of us don't.


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bigolpoofter | August 30, 2010 1:26 PM

Geez... I left my native Virginia last year to avoid further humiliation via my state government! Raiding the home of someone who has violated no law is very shady, but at least I know what the state troopers are doing in the morning, instead of curbing an average highway speed of 70mph.

Whoa. If this is putting the officer in a bad light, I dont see it, sorry. At the end of the video you can see a labelled squad car with a patrolman getting out. The police may do some questionable things, but in this case it's not like this guy was blindsided. He knew there were a couple of cars following him -- and when you're doing 80 on an exit ramp, sorry but you're just begging for a ticket. I mean, c'mon: he passed a cop on the freeway (he points it out in the popup) -- did he think the guy wasnt paying attention?

Bottom line: the cyclist knew it was a cop long before he identified himself as state police (a whopping three seconds into the encounter, I might add) -- there was a second cop car behind him. He was driving like an moron -- and a dangerous one at that. IMHO, he's looking to create some controversy to get public opinion on his side.

I put up with idiot drivers like this every morning. If this gets one of them off the road, I'm for it.

Except that this is not a question about whether or not the motorcyclist was being reckless. From Alex's post above:

"While Graber was obviously engaged in reckless and illegal behavior out in public for which he should have been taken off the road, the police officer's reaction was questionable."

So no one is disputing that his behaviour was reckless. But, again from the post above: "He cut Graber off in an unmarked vehicle, approached Graber in plain clothes and yelled while brandishing a gun *before* identifying himself as a trooper." (asterisks mine)

The key here is *before*. If the police were fine with that, why did they try to yank the video?

To get at the real heart of Alex's post:
we live in dangerous times when we're not allowed to videotape or in any other way show proof when law and order acts as recklessly as the people it goes after.

Again, no one is disputing that Graber was being reckless. The bigger point and the thrust of Alex's piece is the attempt to stop the broadcast of the videotape. The ACLU has weighed in on similar cases, which points to the fact that they see this as a case of civil liberties - which is, I think, the point of this post.

There are, indeed, plenty of idiot drivers out there. The police should know better than to become one of them.

>> "the police officer's reaction was questionable"

And this is where I think we disagree. His reaction was perfectly normal when stopping someone who had been driving as maniacally as this guy was. The policeman has no idea whether the guy is just driving like an idiot, or is possibly high or drunk (or both), or has anger aggression issues and could pull out a gun himself. It's the cop's job sometimes to err on the side of caution, and from what we saw in that video, I'd say it was warranted. Whoever this Graber guy is, I hope they pulled his licence for a really long time.

Insofar as stopping the broadcast of the video... let's consider something here: if the cyclist knows he was driving like a moron and that the police were justified in pulling him over, what possible purpose is there in airing the thing? To show a cop doing his job? Kudos then. But if he's putting it on YouTube so he can show the big bad policeman, I'm afraid that for me he failed big time. The policeman in the unmarked car wasnt the idiot driver here: he positioned his vehicle so the motorcyclist wouldnt be able to continue on his merry reckless way. Again, that's his job. And in doing his job, he's called, within these comments, a "thug".

And to respond to Gina below, who wrote:

>> "In those states, unmarked cars do not pull anyone over"

In North Carolina they do, and God bless them for doing so.

But to return to yours:

>> "But, again from the post above: "He cut Graber off in an unmarked vehicle, approached Graber in plain clothes and yelled while brandishing a gun *before* identifying himself as a trooper."

For all of perhaps two or three seconds, which is hardly enough time to get weirded out about. He wasnt trying to hide who he was, and the cyclist certainly had to recognize the squad car right on his ass. So again, for whose benefit is the airing of this video?

Now, yes, insofar as stopping publication, I'd say the cops were wrong. Highways are public areas; the police will just have to deal with that. But I see no point in jacking up the extremeism that wants to cast *all* police -- let alone the one shown here -- as thugs because of a lousy police policy. The policy can be changed, but right now Graber is far more a threat to everyone else on the road.

Insofar as stopping the broadcast of the video... let's consider something here: if the cyclist knows he was driving like a moron and that the police were justified in pulling him over, what possible purpose is there in airing the thing? To show a cop doing his job? Kudos then.

Well, if the cop did nothing wrong, then what does he have to worry about then? Obviously if his police department didn't think their officers would do anything illegal, then they shouldn't worry about their actions being broadcast.

Which was the point of this post. Not that the guy wasn't driving recklessly (he was) or that the police officer behaved illegally (Time says it's questionable, and they're hardly radical cop-haters) or even whether their attempted suppression of the video is legal (it clearly isn't and the AG already came down with that decision), but that the police themselves recognize the power that comes with privacy and are trying to fight against people filming their actions in many cities, not just in Maryland.

See, Alex, this is where it gets messy. We have information from one source: the video. We have the official police brass reaction to it, as well as the AG's statement... but has anyone talked to the patrolmen who were actually there and had to deal with this guy? Not from what I can see. They certainly have nothing to hide: they did their job. And IMHO they did it well.

We're also limited in this by the visual cropping of the video camera itself. Notice that it stops just as the cyclist is raising his head so we would all know what was right behind him as the unmarked car swerved in to cut off his escape. Unfortunately, he didnt cut quite enough, beause you can still tell the one behind is fully marked and the guy getting out of it is in uniform. He cant pretend this was a blindside attempt to run him off the road. He knows he has two polie cars on his case, one marked for easy identification.

I'll grant you: police attempts to stomp all over videotaping is pretty heinous all around. But as long as the bulk of info in this particular case is coming solely from the alleged "victim", I'm not that inclined to give him much sympathy.

Why all this emphasis on whether or not Graber is at fault or not, when we're all agreed that he *was* being a jerk? And when no one, police included, is denying that the officer did in fact act the way Graber says he did. No, excuse me, the way Graber *videotaped* him acting. And what other policemen are we talking about???? And since when did the ATTORNEY GENERAL'S statement - the last person to side with the victim in most cases, I might add - become suspect??? And if "[t]hey certainly have nothing to hide: they did their job" - why are they trying to squelch the video? Seriously, when did this become about Graber's guilt - we're all agreed about that.

As to "police attempts to stomp all over videotaping is pretty heinous all around." Yes, exactly, that's what this case is about and that's all that we're all saying. Let's not create a case/situation/Law and Order episode (with AG's statements now in dispute, and the presence of mysterious other policemen) that doesn't even exist.

The guy was going WAY to fast, BUT that is NO reason to have a gun drawn when he hets out of his vehicle...My father was a deputy, for the state of Mich....While some laws may vary from state to state, one thing I know for sure....You MUST identify yourself as an officer of the law if you are in an unmarked car. The video does show the officers car, but the plate is to blurry to make out. Not only that, but unmarked cars always have flashing light....There were no lights indicating that he was being pulled over. I hope the motorcyclist walks away with a ticket, and NOT prison time....

I find that the police have gone completely bonkers in the last ten years or so. They treat all citizens as suspects with no respect, no dignity and no compunction when they are absolutely in the wrong. Make no doubt about it, we are living in a police state. The Patriot Act was the beginning of this mess and we are seeing it played out in dribs and drabs such as in the above story. In times of national emergency or war, the balance which may usually exist between freedom and national security often tips in favour of security. This shift has lead to this nation becoming a police state.

So it's perfectly okay for police to put GPS trackers on our vehicles without our knowledge, but it's illegal now to videotape a cop?

Colleagues of mine have been arrested about two or three times in the last year for filming militarized-police.

There are few things government hate more than being shown for the thugs and tyrants they are, they much like roaches, prefer to operate under the cover of darkness.

Yet the Central Authority loves to tell us how they are protecting us from evil-doers and terrah-ists which then of course necessitate the expansion and continuation of programs such as the PATRIOT Act and Enemy Belligerent Act.

Thus why there is truth in saying, "The Camera is the New Gun."

If the police want to argue that the motorcycle driver was violating wiretap laws by not having consent to record this "private" traffic stop, than maybe they should remove their audio recording devices from police vehicles also. I assume people getting pulled over in a private traffic stop are being recorded by the police without consent.

I can video tape the presidnet, why can't I video tape a police officer doing his job? Unless the cop is planing on breaking the law himself...

Actually, in many states unmarked squadcars and plain clothes police have to conduct police bussiness slightly differently.

In those states, unmarked cars do not pull anyone over, they simply ghost behind the target until the marked car can pull up to the target and pull it over.

Plainclothes offciers MUST announce that they are police and show ID unless they are faced with an armed person. Showing a gun and then saying 'police' leads to a lot of issues.

Simply seeing blue lights flashing or hearing a siren does not mean police. A person waving a gun and screaming at you is not nessassarily a police person.
When I was 13 a 'police car' pulled up and the man inside showed me his detective badge...and his truant officer badge and told me to get in. The two badges had different numbers. Lucky for me my dad was a cop and explained police badges to me. They only get one, and if they go from patrolman to detective the sheild changes but the number stays the same. That shield number is only assigned to one person only and no one else can have it.

I'm glad I live in a state where one is allowed to record police. In fact, in NY state most police cars have front mounted cameras which record whenever the car is on. It's an expected, know quantity that they're being taped, because they're taping it. As a citizen we're allowed to tape such encounters too, at least that's how state decisions have gone so far.

I think this should be legal in all 50 states, and the wire-tapping laws should have minimal federal standards that allow for such things, clearly defining government employees as no having an expectation of privacy while performing duties on the job. (I know *I* don't have such rights as an employee of the company I work for, why should they?)

I don't think it's illegal anywhere, just police are trying to use existing laws to make it illegal (in much the same way they use vague indecency laws to make gay men hitting on each other in public a crime). There's a case of a woman in Florida being arrested for filming police as well, and they used one of those wire-tapping laws too but got sued by the ACLU.

Who knows. Maybe a police department in NY will try that soon.

hey I can get out of my car waving a gun and say I'm a cop to.
way cool I'll try that sometime.
moral of the story; pigs will be pigs.

lol. It sounds like a great way to have a good time.

Some police departments act like a criminal gang, using the law as a weapon to hide their criminal acts.

In Indiana, all unmarked cars have to have sirens and lights. You still have the option of not stopping for them and -instead- driving to the nearest police station if they're not in uniform inside. There have been several instances of drivers being pulled over by fake cops. This could have been one of those since there were no lights, the car was unmarked, and a guy gets out with a gun. I'd have driven off as fast as possible!

And as a woman, I would be really concerned about driving in a state where cops could go around in such circumstances. Not that men are not in danger from attacks by wackos disguised as cops, and I hate to think of what might happen to gender non-conforming people, but the stats do suggest that women might be considered especially vulnerable.

http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20061695,00.html

This whole incident highlights the problems with allowing "authorities" to stop us at their will, a trend that has spiked since the Patriot Act but certainly not unknown before then.

And this just in. Looks like this issue is going to heat up in the near future.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129553748