PRESS RELEASE: Austin Police Illegally Arrest Peaceful Streets Project Organizer Joshua Pineda; Continues to Wage War Against First Amendment
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 10th, 2016
The Austin Police Department continued their practice of violating the First Amendment rights of police accountability activists on Sunday morning. At approximately 12:58 A.M., Joshua Pineda, a lead organizer with the Peaceful Streets Project, was arrested while filming police officers harassing a young black man.
While filming the police downtown, Joshua Pineda and a half dozen other Peaceful Streets Project copwatchers observed Austin Police repeatedly shoving a young black man near the northeast corner of Trinity & 6th Streets. The young black man did not appreciate being repeatedly shoved, and began to legally voice his displeasure to the police. While most of the police turned and walked away, Officer Cameron Staff #6830 decided that he would escalate the situation. Officer Staff apparently didn’t like the young man’s protest, and proceeded to follow the young man across the street. By doing so, Officer Staff highlighted APD’s tendency to needlessly escalate situations as opposed to mindfully deescalating them.
With the Peaceful Streets Project following behind to document the situation, various other APD officers followed. Joshua legally went to a knee to film Officer Staff bullying the young black man. While Joshua Pineda never interfered by any stretch of the imagination or the law (TX Penal Code 38.15), Corporal Richard Mears #3564 walked over to him and ordered him to move back. In doing so, Corporal Mears violated APD Policy 302.2(c)6. Given an illegal order, Joshua Pineda continued to exercise his First Amendment right to document government officials engaging in racist policing. Corporal Mears then illegally arrested Joshua Pineda.
The Peaceful Streets Project has had previous contact with both Officer Staff and Corporal Mears. On November 18, 2015, a Peaceful Streets Project volunteer filmed Staff refusing to identify himself in violation of APD Policy 900.4.4. And on March 20, 2016, a Peaceful Streets Project volunteer filmed Corporal Mears defending Officer Cameron Caldwell #7408 who illegally assaulted a handcuffed, detained, young black man during SXSW. In the video, you can hear CPL Mears claiming that Officer Caldwell was a “great guy” who “took care of business” and “took the fight out of [his handcuffed victim].”
We have no doubt that these two officers have been emboldened by the cowardice of the Chain of Command up to and including Chief Hubert Arturo “Art” Acevedo, city and county prosecutors, City Manager Marc Ott, Mayor Steve Adler, and the City Council who have repeatedly turned a blind eye to the repeated and endless train of criminal acts by the Austin Police Department against the people.
The Peaceful Streets Project dares the Austin Police Department to immediately release the videos that Joshua Pineda took of the incident, as well as the HALO videos and body camera videos that will prove Joshua Pineda’s innocence. We want the people of Austin to see for themselves that the only criminals in this incident were the Austin Police. Or does the Austin Police Department have something to hide? The answer to that question will lead you to the reason that the Austin Police Department continues to wage war against peaceful activists who dare to exercise their First Amendment right to film the police.
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.
Disorderly Conduct Charge Against Peaceful Streets Project Founder Antonio Buehler Dropped After Second Mistrial; No More Criminal Charges Outstanding
Yesterday afternoon, Gonzales County (TX) Attorney Paul Watkins moved to dismiss a Class C Misdemeanor charge of Disorderly Conduct against Peaceful Streets Project founder Antonio Buehler. With the dismissal, Buehler has now been cleared of every criminal charge levied against him since his initial high profile arrest in Austin, TX on January 1, 2012.
On March 13th, 2013, Buehler was at the municipal courthouse to observe court proceedings when he observed Judge Deidre Voigt verbally abusing adolescents who had received Class C misdemeanor charges for tardiness, truancy, and classroom disruptions at the local high school. When she found that he was recording her behavior, she confiscated his camera, searched it without a warrant, and then demanded that he delete the footage he had taken of her. As Buehler left the courthouse, Captain Gayle Autry told him to never return, and Buehler shortly thereafter told Autry to “go f— yourself.” Buehler was then arrested and charged with Disorderly Conduct.
After being denied a continuance so he could obtain legal counsel, Buehler defended himself in the same court, presided over by Judge Voigt, on June 5, 2013, and was found guilty after a 7-hour trial, and assessed a $1 fine. Buehler immediately appealed the decision and was provided a trial de novo. Buehler went back to Gonzales for a trial on February 23, 2015 with Chevo Pastrano and Millie Thompson as his legal representatives, however, the trial was declared a mistrial due to an error made by County Judge David Bird. The trial date set for March 30, 2015, was cancelled the day before the trial when the county prosecutor claimed that he needed to deal with a family emergency. The trial date set for May 20, 2015, was cancelled days before the trial when the county court claimed to have discovered that they didn’t send out jury questionnaires.
On June 25th, 2015, Buehler went to court, again. The prosecution only called Captain Autry, while the defense called Buehler, and six other witnesses to testify. The prosecution argued that the mere utterance of the words “go f— yourself” tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace, while the defense argued that the arrest was illegal, that a police officer cannot arrest people because they are offended by free speech, and that Autry was never moved to violence. The six-person jury (two of who admitted during voir dire that they were friends or acquaintances with the prosecutor and the police that were present at the scene) deadlocked at 3-3, and the trial was declared a mistrial.
Watkins indicated that he chose to dismiss the charges after hearing the testimony at trial and concluding that he could not in good conscience try the case again. In response, Buehler said, “I appreciate that the prosecutor recognized that the testimony that was provided by Captain Autry during the trial proved that I did not commit any crime by exercising my First Amendment rights after I had my Constitutional right to be free from illegal search and seizure violated by Judge Deidre Voigt.” He continued, “I am also extremely grateful for the witnesses who were willing to travel to Gonzales multiple times to testify on my behalf, for the three members of the jury who refused to be pressured into declaring me guilty for a crime that was never committed, and for my hard working and principled lawyers Chevo Pastrano and Millie Thompson.” Buehler has already initiated a lawsuit against the City of Gonzales and Captain Gayle Autry for violations of his civil rights.
Buehler originally made news on January 1, 2012, when he was arrested on the charge of Harassment of a Public Official, a 3rd degree felony, for allegedly spitting in Austin (TX) Police Officer Patrick Oborski’s face. In the aftermath of that first arrest, Buehler launched the Peaceful Streets Project to educate the public on their rights, empower them to stand up for their rights and to stand up for the rights of one another, and come together to form communities to hold police accountable.
Over the next year and a half, Austin Police Officers arrested Buehler three more times for filming them while on duty. Two years and nine months after the New Year’s Day arrest, Buehler was found not guilty of any charges stemming from that incident at a four-day trial. Despite half a dozen witnesses, four videos, and two audio files that showed that Buehler did not spit on Oborski and that Oborski had lied in his arrest affidavit against Buehler, he was never disciplined or arrested.
In total, over the past three and a half years, Buehler has been arrested five times, has had ten charges levied in the courts against him, and has had dozens of criminal investigations launched against him (including at least three felony investigations by the Austin Police Department). With this dismissal, Buehler has now been cleared of every charge. Buehler is also currently suing the City of Austin, Chief Art Acevedo, Sergeant Adam Johnson, and Officers Patrick Oborski, Robert Snider, and Justin Berry.
The Gonzales Dismissal order is public record.
In response to the Austin Police Department’s (APD) continued attempts to prosecute Antonio Buehler, the Peaceful Streets Project will be launching a series of actions from October 21st to the 24th. They are attempting to convict him on several charges, to include a charge of failing to obey a “lawful order” associated with his controversial New Year’s Day, 2012 arrest. In a recent release from Antonio Buehler, he explained the initial arrest:
“On January 1, 2012, I saw two Austin cops assaulting a woman who had not committed a crime. When I tried to take pictures and question the cops, I was assaulted and charged with a felony crime of spitting in a cop’s face (2-10 year prison sentence).
Fortunately, numerous witnesses came forward, including one who took video of the incident. Every witness said the cop lied and the video proves it. However, the APD pushed forward with their charges against me.”
In March of 2013, APD failed to get a grand jury indictment against Antonio Buehler for any of the charges that he had been arrested on. However, they were curiously able to have him indicted on four Class C Misdemeanors for alleged crimes he was never arrested on, an unheard of action taken against a victim of police abuse by a grand jury. Antonio pushed forward with a civil suit in the wake of the grand jury ruling. In an attempt to undermine the validity of the civil suit, APD and the City Attorney are pushing forward on the Class C Misdemeanor charges even though Buehler was clearly exercising his First Amendment right according to SCOTUS. Through this action, the APD violated the 1st Amendment in practice, while hypocritically claiming to adhere to the law. The first court date is set for October 23rd at 8:30 a.m. at Municipal Courthouse courtroom #2A.
On Tuesday, October 21st, the Peaceful Streets Project will host a meeting to address the court case and to organize the direct actions we will be launching in response. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Tuesday, October 21st, in the indoor back room of Spider House Cafe, 2908 Fruth St. The actions will begin with a ceremonial copwatch on the west end of North Lamar in the area of the initial incident on New Year’s Day, 2012. Then at night, after the first day in court we will launch continued copwatch in the west end district as well as copwatch actions throughout the 6th street area. It is believed that the officer in charge of the task force that initially arrested Antonio Buehler, Adam Johnson, has been reassigned to horse patrol on 6th street. These actions are prepared to continue nightly until a dismissal or non-guilty verdict is reached.
The court system belongs to the same corrupt system as the police department. Historically it heavily, if not infinitely, favors the police no matter how wicked their deed. But the streets themselves belong to the community of the people they assault, oppress and exploit. Here in these streets the Austin Police Department will answer for their deeds through the use of non-violent actions utilizing our First Amendment rights.