U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane has upheld the Constitutional right to film police officers in the case of Antonio Buehler vs. the City of Austin, Austin Police Department, et. al.
Plaintiff Antonio Buehler, founder of Abrome Learning and the Peaceful Streets Project made headlines in 2012 after he photographed Austin Police Officer Patrick Oborski assaulting a woman in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, 2012. After Oborski noticed Buehler taking pictures, he assaulted Buehler, and filed a Felony Harassment of a Public Official charge against him for allegedly spitting in the officer’s face. A charge that carries a two to ten year prison sentence.
Facing felony charges, Buehler went to the public to ask for witnesses to step forward, and multiple witnesses did. A local entrepreneur and a local academician who were both in the 7-11 parking lot shared their stories with the local media, and a gentleman across the street took cell phone video of the incident. With witnesses and the video, coupled with Buehler’s background which included degrees from West Point and Stanford, prior service as an Airborne Ranger qualified Army officer, extensive volunteering and education work with children, his role as a designated driver that night, and no previous run-ins with law enforcement, the incident garnered significant media attention and forced the Austin Police Department to resort to a slander campaign against Buehler and the woman who was assaulted on New Year’s Day.
Buehler used his significant following of supporters to then launch the Peaceful Streets Project to encourage people to know their rights, stand up for the rights of one another and to hold police accountable for their actions. The Peaceful Streets Project handed out 100 free video cameras to residents of Austin to document police action, they organized hundreds of cop watch events, and they organized two police accountability summits with speakers such as the Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, and investigative journalist Radley Balko.
With the rise of the success of the Peaceful Streets Project, the Austin Police Department increased their harassment of Buehler and his supporters. APD arrested several Peaceful Streets Project volunteers for filming, including Buehler who they arrested three more times. Each time the police arrested a filmer, the Peaceful Streets Project would increase their efforts to document police actions.
Buehler’s charges remained outstanding for 15 months before a Grand Jury finally no-billed Buehler. However, they did indict him on four class C misdemeanor charges (failure to obey (3), interference with public duties (1)).
Buehler retained Attorney Daphne Silverman to file suit against the City of Austin, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, and Officers Patrick Oborski, Robert Snider, Adam Johnson and Justin Berry, on First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment Grounds, as well as violations of the Texas Constitution, conversion, false arrest and false imprisonment. The City of Austin then filed motions to dismiss the case which resulted in Judge Lane’s decision.
Judge Lane ruled against the city on almost every ground of the 12(b)(6) motion, with the exception of excessive force. Buehler’s civil rights suit against the City remains lively, as there is a recognized First Amendment right to film the police: “A private citizen has the right to assemble in a public forum, receive information on a matter of public concern – such as police officers performing their official duties – and to record that information for the purpose of conveying that information.”
Silverman said that she and her client were pleased with Lane’s detailed analysis in support of Buehler’s constitutional rights. “This ruling is a clear signal to law enforcement that the public can now photograph and videotape police officers so long as they don’t interfere with the officer’s duties,” she said.
Buehler said he hopes his case exposes corruption endemic within the Austin Police Department and in departments nationwide. “The extent to which APD is willing to go to try to victimize the victims of police abuse to protect cops who commit felony crimes is quite telling about the corrupt culture within the police department. I am the founder of an education company, a West Point, Stanford and Harvard graduate, the designated driver that night who tried to stand up for a woman being assaulted by the police, and there are a half dozen witnesses and two videos that all prove that the cops committed multiple crimes that night and that the woman they assaulted and I were both innocent victims. If the cops are willing to go after me like this, imagine what they’ll do to a young black or Hispanic male, a homeless person, or a person with prior drug offenses.”
The National Press Photographers Association in May filed an amicus brief in support of his case, which the organization says is not an isolated incident but “part of a nationwide phenomenon where police have interfered with citizens’ rights to photograph and video-record officers engaged in official business in public spaces.”
“NPPA follows these cases closely, and strives to ensure that the crucial role that journalists and citizens play in promoting discussions of public concern is not diminished,” the brief states.
While Buehler has not been convicted of any crimes levied against him by the Austin Police Department, the four misdemeanor charges are still pending, over two years later.
Press Release: Peaceful Streets Project-Austin announces new initiative, new team and Police Accountability Summit update
As the Austin Police Department was notified towards the end of March, the Peaceful Streets Project will be launching a new initiative. As the shooting of an unarmed minority of our community has become a near annual event for APD during the summer, the Peaceful Streets Project will increase the frequency of its copwatch actions. For three straight weekends, with one weekend off, followed by three more weekends, the Peaceful Streets Project will take to the streets of Austin. This new copwatch initiative is in addition to an increase in randomized, undocumented actions we are engaging in throughout the city.
In addition, the Peaceful Streets Project is excited to announce a new Cameron district team. In addition to our downtown district team, a special unit will now be dispatched to focus resources throughout the Cameron area.
We would also like to inform the Austin community that officer Nathan Wagner has returned to duty in the downtown district where he murdered Byron Carter.
The Peaceful Streets Project is also excited to announce that this year’s annual police accountability summit will be held in November. The roster of speakers and events will be announced in the fall.
In closing we have a message for the Austin Police Department. You will learn to respect the well-being of our community. As was stated at the end of March, this community is not your playground. We will advance justice one camera at a time!
The Peaceful Streets Project envisions a society free of state-sponsored institutionalized violence. However, we do not in any way promote random violence as a substitution. That is why the Peaceful Streets Project does not cheer on Justin Bourque, the cop killer in Canada. That is why the Peaceful Streets Project does not endorse the random targeting and killing of cops.
The Peaceful Streets Project eagerly points out the crimes that cops commit, and we encourage communities to engage in non-violent direct action tactics to shame and ostracize the cops who commit those crimes. Such direct action may include protesting in front of the homes of criminal cops, or the churches they attend, or the schools that their children attend. Such direct action may include door knocking to inform the cops’ neighbors of their crimes, or public information campaigns to help inform an entire region of the specific incidents where cops have committed crimes. In addition to holding police accountable through non-violent direct action tactics, members of the Peaceful Streets Project may engage in criminal or civil actions against criminal cops in their personal capacities. Further, the Peaceful Streets Project actively encourages and engages in community building activities to help individuals understand their rights and to come together to protect and serve each other.
The Peaceful Streets Project acknowledges that the institution of law enforcement is infested with criminal cops, and that the so-called “good” cops who are willing to speak out about cop crimes, to stand up to the criminal cops, and to arrest or kill criminal cops if they see them engaged in violent crimes against the public are virtually non-existent. We do not waste our time calling cops heroes or participating in the myth making that cops go out and risk their lives in dangerous jobs every day for the good of the public. We don’t celebrate cops for not breaking the law, for not infringing upon the rights of peaceful people or for moments of decency where they act in a kind manner toward their fellow human beings like many of us do every single day.
Justin Bourque is no hero. We believe heroes are those people who put their safety and liberty at risk to engage in ethical actions to help protect people who are being oppressed or victimized by bullies. The Peaceful Streets Project acknowledges that in certain circumstances engaging in self-defense or coming to the defense of others may be an appropriate response to police violence and criminal behavior. However, there is no evidence that Justin Bourque was doing either. All signs point to Justin Bourque engaging in a premeditated murder campaign against people who happen to be members of a corrupt institution. While there are thousands, or tens of thousands of cops who commit violent crimes every year, they are still a small minority of police, and not even they deserve to be summarily executed. And although the balance of cops remain silent and support the criminal actions of their thin blue line brothers and sisters, none of them deserve to be summarily executed for their cowardice and corruption.
The Peaceful Streets Project calls on all police accountability supporters and police accountability groups to distance themselves from those who are endorsing the random killing of cops. In order to fight police abuse, we must be better than it. It is wrong when cops abuse, rape, murder and frame people. It would be just as wrong for people to do the same to police.
The cops in America are out of control. They are killing unarmed Black and Hispanic men, people who dare to try to protect themselves when SWAT teams invade homes in the middle of the night, homeless people and even the elderly. They are also killing family pets at rate that makes one question if there is some sort of thin blue line expectation that cops don’t have street cred until they kill something. For example, in Atlanta it was found that cops killed one dog per week between 2010 and 2012. They’re even killing kittens.
Cops often use the excuse they were “scared” for their safety or for their lives when they kill people and pets, despite having very safe jobs (they are much more likely to die because of their illegal driving practices or health complications from donuts or steroids than they are from dangerous criminals). We don’t know if police beatings and executions of innumerable people over the years has numbed us to their brutality, as they almost always get away with crimes, or if their overreach from going after the weak and the marginalized to going after pets will actually cause people to wake up to the criminal nature of police in America. Perhaps a new documentary that is being produced to highlight the cop killing pets epidemic will help?
Until the day that the people finally say enough is enough, the Peaceful Streets Project would like to encourage you to share selected stories of criminal cop behavior in an attempt to stir up the people of America so they take a stand. Whereas many people will turn a blind eye to another murdered homeless or black person, a murdered puppy can sometimes get people to pay attention. If you have stories of abuse please feel free to share those stories on the Peaceful Streets Project facebook page, and come to the Free Antonio Buehler page for thousands of stories of cops committing crimes.
The inspiration for this post came from yet another sad story that a victim presented to us. We are posting it below:
“On September 6th, 2013 my dog, Blossom, went missing in Jonestown, Texas. For two weeks I and other people who had loved Blossom searched for her but we were unsuccessful. Following those two weeks I received a phone call from a gentleman from Jonestown City Hall, who had informed me that Blossom was hit by a car, and TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) had taken her body and had it incinerated.
“About a week later I received an email from a Private Investigator from the City of Jonestown who had asked to speak to me in person, stating she had additional information in regards to Blossom’s death. Once I had met her in person she had informed me that Blossom was not hit by a car, but in fact shot and killed by a member of the Jonestown Police Department. She had wondered into a neighbor’s chicken coop and the neighbors contacted the police. Once officers arrived at the property they killed my baby.
“Blossom was anything but an aggressive dog. Above playing, dancing, eating, hiking, and cuddling, she loved everything with her small, yet beautiful heart. However, she had the appearance of a Coyote, which the officers found a threat, and reason to murder her.
“I have raised Blossom since she was 1 month old, she was like a child to me, and I still mourn her death heavily. I am fighting the tears as I type this message. Many people loved Blossom within the 7 years of her life, she brought such joy and comforted big and small creatures, human and animal. She did not deserve what had happened to her. We are all still struggling with the loss of such a wonderful spirit.”
Peaceful Streets Project founder, Antonio Buehler recently gave a TEDx talk at Harvard University in which he talked about the need for both direct action and empathy as a means to fighting police abuse.
The Peaceful Streets Project stands in solidarity with the Black Star Initiative and all other community groups that seek to hold police officials accountable through peaceful, direct action. Based on an obvious disdain for the people of Austin, a complete disregard for their civil liberties and continued criminal activity by members of the Austin Police Department, the Peaceful Streets Project cannot in good conscience give any consideration to the sorry excuses that the Austin Police make to justify their endless train of abuses against the people of Austin.
As mentioned in the press release by the Black Star Initiative that is copied below, two recent cases and a case that haunts us from last summer drive home the fact that the Austin Police Department stands in the way of justice, safety and security.
During SXSW, the Austin Police Department violently assaulted and kidnapped Margaret Woodbury, and in February the Austin Police Department violently assaulted and kidnapped Amanda Jo Stpehens for failing to identify after assaulting her as she was jogging near the University of Texas campus. Both of these incidents brought scrutiny on the Austin Police Department who typically prefers to target young black men, Hispanic men, and homeless people, but in these two cases targeted young blonde women. However, occasionally the Austin Police Department does something so heinous to someone in one of the aforementioned groups that people take notice, like the case of Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr.
Last summer, on July 26th, 2013, Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr. showed up at a bank that had been robbed earlier in the day. Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr. was a thin black man, and the man who robbed the bank was a heavyset white man. Despite obviously not being a suspect in the bank robbery, Detective Charles Kleinert decided to interrogate Mr. Jackson, who had a Constitutional right to end his conversation with Detective Kleinert because Jackson was never detained (nor was he suspected of committing any crime). However, when Jackson ceased communication and legally walked away, Kleinert carjacked someone who was driving nearby, and forced him to drive around looking for Jackson. When Kleinert saw Jackson walking down the street, he yelled at the driver to pull over, after which Kleinert chased Jackson underneath a bridge. Jackson was unarmed, and ended up being shot once to the back of the head/neck execution style, and was killed.
Now the people of Austin are waiting to see if Detective Charles Kleinert will be indicted for murdering Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr. Cops who commit felony crimes in Austin do not get indicted, and we don’t expect Kleinert to become the first. Even if he was indicted, we would anticipate that the District Attorney would play softball and throw the case, as the District Attorney has continually failed to seek justice against cops who commit crimes in Travis County, TX.
Because of these three cases, and numerous other cases where cops commit crimes in Austin and get away with them because of a criminal police department and a cowardly DA’s office, we recognize that it is up to us to hold the police accountable. That is why we stand in solidarity with the Black Star Initiative, and all those in the police accountability movement who want to stand up against criminal cops.
Peaceful Streets Project
IMMEDIATE PUBLIC RELEASE FROM THE BLACK STAR TEAM
After the brutal assault on Margaret Woodbury during SXSW, which followed the unnecessary assault on Amanda Jo Stephen on West Campus, and while we continue to wait to see if Detective Charles Kleinert will ever be indicted on the blatant murder of Larry Eugene Jackson Jr., the upstart Black Star Initiative will now enter into open direct actions with the Peaceful Streets Project and re-unite the police accountability movement. The first stage of our unity will be witnessed during Texas Relays. We will increase and intensify our presence downtown until we have reached desired results of the following grievances.
The first grievance is that Travis County indict Detective Charles Kleinert on murder charges. In addition we call for the City of Austin to reverse it’s conclusion to not reach a settlement with the family of Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr.
The second grievance is for the identification be made public of the officer who assaulted Margaret Woodbury. We then call for that officer to be terminated immediately from the police force and charged with aggravated assault. In addition we call for the identities of the other officers involved to be made public and then demoted to Metro security.
In addition I now call off recent open dialogue and upcoming “ride along” with APD to establish an open line of mutual understanding and respect. No understanding can ever be reached with an institution who publicly, openly supports murder and assault of people of our community. No dialogue can be exchanged with that of which prefers physical violence over speech. This community is not your play ground
As we are accepting of the reality that these grievances not be met, we are preparing to launch an all out campaign against APD similar to that of Wagner Watch. This campaign will be launched in June if APD, the City of Austin and the District Attorney’s Office do not meet the grievances of the community.
Feel now for your sins. Leave now for our sake.
Joshua Pineda of the Black Star Initiative
Justice for Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr., and other victims of police crimes will come through community, not grand juries
This is Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr. He, like other black men in Austin, TX came across the wrong cop at the wrong time. Despite having not committed any crime on July 26, 2013, the 32 year old father of three was chased under a bridge by Austin Police Department Detective Charles Kleinert, and shot once in the back of the head/neck, execution style. Although he was innocent, posed no threat to anyone and was not even suspected of committing a crime, the murder at the hands of another Austin cop resulted in no punishment or arrest of the criminal cop. Detective Kleinert was allowed to retire, and the police department and the Austin Police Association rallied behind him and defended his actions.
This coming week the Grand Jury will likely make a determination on whether they should true bill him or no bill him for murder. Since I’ve moved to Austin, a Grand Jury has never indicted a cop in Austin for committing felony crimes. In my case there were a half dozen witnesses, two videos and audio evidence that proves that Officers Patrick Oborski and Robert Snider committed felony crimes against me and another person. The Grand Jury found a way to indict only me and the other victim. I don’t expect Kleinert to be indicted, and I don’t expect the DA to try to get him convicted, even if the Grand Jury were to indict a violent criminal cop for the first time.
Justice will have to come through a change in society wherein we no longer tolerate violent, criminal cops. We must make life a living hell for these coward cops, we must shame, call out and ostracize these degenerates. We must rally behind the victims. We must force the rest of the cops to become “good” cops who no longer stand with criminal cops, but instead begin to arrest or kill the criminal cops who assault members of the public. It will happen, one day. We need to make that day come sooner rather than later, for the millions of Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr.’s that are bound to follow.
Justice for Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr., and all the victims of criminal police. #Justice4LEJJr
~ Antonio Buehler
One corollary of our efforts to drive a change in culture through direct action tactics is an increase in bystander empathy, and ultimately, action. Bystander empathy with regards to police abuse has posed a challenge because of the inherent fear that people rightfully feel when confronted by a police officer. The Peaceful Streets Project was launched because Antonio Buehler was assaulted and framed because he tried to get two police officers to stop assaulting a woman who had not committed any crime, and who had not posed any public safety threat. If Antonio did not stand up for the woman who was being abused, he never would have been arrested. Such tactics by police can have a chilling effect on the willingness of people to stand up for others. However, Antonio’s case was unique in that another random bystander took video of Antonio being assaulted by the police, and that helped give him the evidence that would allow him to fight and beat a felony charge.
The Peaceful Streets Project wants to empower tens of thousands of volunteers to stand up for one another as opposed to remaining silent when they see police abuse. In order to do that we need to do more than help people find the courage to speak up when they see abuse; we need to encourage bystander empathy. One of the shortcomings of our society is that we more often than not collectively empathize and side with police officers as opposed to the people they interact with, as we buy into the notion that police officers are automatic heroes who risk their lives to protect us from criminals, while those they arrest or harm are assumed to be those dangerous criminals. In addition, in our society certain demographics of people are more easily dismissed or forgotten when they become the victims of police abuse and violence than others.
By sharing stories of abuse through the Police Abuse Complaint Departments, building communities of diverse people, and bringing people together to engage in direct action, the Peaceful Streets Project plans to shift that collective empathy from police officers to the victims of police abuse, or at least to a neutral position. This will help people overcome their apathy so that they will stand up for those they may not normally identify with, which will in turn help other people to do the same. Additionally, we hope that this mentality bleeds into courtrooms so that suspects may one day be able to realize the stated ideal that we are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, as opposed to a jury assuming one is guilty and automatically believing the testimony of police officers who may be the real criminals.
The Peaceful Streets Project works with and supports many victims of police abuse and violence, and many of the communities we are trying to empower are comprised of high numbers of victims of police abuse and violence. As such, the Peaceful Streets Project seeks to ensure a safe and secure environment for these victims by refusing to allow law enforcement agencies, officials or their representatives from participating in Peaceful Streets Project actions or events. Further, the Peaceful Streets Project will ensure the trust of the victims of police abuse by not working with or supporting any coalitions involving law enforcement agencies, officials or their representatives acting in their official capacity. While we acknowledge there may be some potential benefits to working with law enforcement on select initiatives, we are not willing to risk the safety or psychological security of those we are trying to serve.
Further, we made the strategic decision to focus on direct action tactics as opposed to political action for two primary reasons. First, we felt that we could best influence culture by working directly within communities, as opposed to trying to fix or reform the system (which could include working with law enforcement). Second, we felt that there were plenty of organizations that were already working with law enforcement to try to reduce the incidence of police abuse and criminality, and that replicating their efforts would be a poor use of resources.
The Peaceful Streets Projects attempts to avoid taking a position that is either for law enforcement or against law enforcement. We actively oppose police officers who abuse their authority and commit crimes against the public, and given the rate of such crimes we can easily spend all of our time working against those elements of law enforcement. At the same time, we will eagerly provide moral support for and rally behind those police officers who have the courage to stand up to the thin blue line (the fraternity of police officers) and hold police officers who commit crimes accountable for their actions.
We have updated our cop watch guidelines to better reflect our nation-wide focus to combat police abuse and our desire to improve the level of our rhetoric when interacting with police officers. Please click on this Cop Watch Code of Conduct for a pdf that you can print out and share with volunteers at each cop watch event.