On August 2nd, I was arrested while filming police officers downtown. It marked the fifth time that I have been wrongfully arrested by the Austin Police Department in retaliation for exercising my constitutional right to film the police in an attempt to hold them accountable. Fortunately for me, I do not have to rely on police video to ensure that I am exonerated of the charges pending against me.
APD continues to mislead the public on the well-established right to film the police in public. In addition to being the document that all police officers swore to uphold and defend, the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Among the first rights enshrined in the Constitution are freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Contrary to claims by Chief Acevedo, it is impossible for someone to illegally film police officers if they are peacefully doing so in a public space. The pro-First Amendment position that we have the protected right to film the police has been reaffirmed numerous times in Federal Courts, from Glik v. Cunniffe in the First Circuit to my lawsuit against the City of Austin in the Fifth Circuit.
Acevedo tries to confuse the public by claiming that his officers are not arresting people for filming, but merely for their “conduct” while filming. But there should be no confusion—the only questionable conduct is that of police officers illegally arresting lawful people. Acevedo also tries to confuse the public by claiming that the Peaceful Streets Project is interfering with arrests. However, all such claims are baseless. They have yet to provide a single example of a Peaceful Streets Project member physically interfering with an arrest. Legally, one cannot interfere just because they happen to be holding a camera in their hand.
The Peaceful Streets Project is a grassroots initiative that grew out of the community support I received after I was arrested on January 1, 2012. That morning, I witnessed Officers Patrick Oborski and Robert Snider abusing a woman who had not committed any crime. I began to question the officers and attempted to take pictures with my cell phone. Because I had the audacity to exercise my constitutionally protected rights, I was arrested and charged with the felony crime of spitting in a police officer’s face. Fortuitously, half a dozen witnesses were willing to come forward and testify that the police lied about the event, and one took video of the incident.
What I did not have access to for the two years and nine months after the arrest, while APD continued to slander me by claiming I spit in Oborski’s face, were the dash cam videos that also proved my innocence. APD and prosecutors also failed to turn over the 7-Eleven surveillance video they had in their possession, which we fortunately acquired through other means. In subsequent arrests, they also confiscated three Peaceful Streets Project cameras that had video of Austin police illegally arresting us for filming them. It took us about two years to get those videos back from the city. And the city tried to quash our requests for HALO video that show the events leading up to my arrest on August 2nd.
Acevedo disingenuously claims that they are now rolling out body cameras to increase transparency. However, body cameras without access will not increase transparency, they will become another tool for the police to abuse people they find undesirable. The opposite of transparency is the status quo in which APD suppresses video of police misconduct while misrepresenting those incidents by referencing videos that they refuse to allow the public to see.
If APD were really interested in transparency, they would acknowledge that the six videos of my most recent arrest prove that the police officers lied in order to justify another illegal arrest. And they would encourage the public to record the police.
* This is in response to their op-ed Body cameras might illuminate right and wrong when recording police. I tried to have this op-ed published by the Austin American-Statesman but like many media outlets, they choose to let the lying cops dictate the narrative of the story, and to have the final word.