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Arresting Witnesses: A Conflict of Interest

Should police have the power to seize the cameras and tapes of people who are recording police misconduct? It seems clear that they should not. But since they do, a word of caution.
Last year, a friend accidentally stumbled upon a police officer hasseling a young man in the street. Since she had a camera with her, she stopped to bear witness, and to record what transpired. I wasn't there, so I can't really comment on what the cop was doing other than to say my friend was obviously concerned about his conduct.

The officer asked her to step back, which she did. But as soon as the officer was finished with the business of harassing (and, I believe, arresting) the young man, he lunged at my friend, arrested her, and confiscated her camera. That was more than a year ago. Although no charges were ultimately brought against her, she hasn't seen her camera or the tape inside it since. Apparently, the officer has kept it in his personal locker all this time.

Why is this important? Because bearing witness to the actions of the police is one of the only (legal) means we have to enforce their accountability. The reason we know, for example, that officers proceeded to taze Jahar Perez' body for three solid minutes after shooting him point blank in the chest as he was strapped in his seatbelt, is that someone had the presence of mind to carry a tape recorder with him for just such an occasion.

The reason we know that officers Hanousek and Kruger are sadistic thugs is that people with cameras in hand recorded them as they tortured a trapped and screaming Miranda May with pepper spray last March. (The camera even caught Hanousek's ghoulish grin as he set upon Miranda in the blinding attack.)

The reason we know that police beat and arrested Bill ellis, also last March, who was doing nothing more than standing on a sidewalk holding a sign, is that someone pointed a camera at him when it happened. The reason the world knows about the abuse of power visited upon the citizens of this city in August 2002, and the reason a lawsuit against the city over this act is proceeding so well, is that many, many people with cameras recorded the entire scene for posterity. The reason the world finally learned of the racist police violence in Los Angeles (home, at the time, of Mark Kroeker, by the way) is that someone videotaped Rodney King being beaten by a handful of thugs in uniform.

Clearly, the police don't like this attention. I had the opportunity to see the video footage of another friend, who was continuously bombarded with pepper spray across the lens of his camera during an anti-bush demonstration. He was specifically targeted, I believe, because he had a camera. I have watched dozens of people being arrested and targeted with police violence for no other reason than that they were bearing witness to the abuse being perpetrated by uniformed officers. And very often, cameras are seized in these encounters. At least three cameras from the pdx indy video collective have spent time in the slammer in this very manner.

But, we're persistent. A few years ago, a videographer taped LA police officers beating a 16 year old African American teenager who had a developmental disability. After shooting the footage, the smart videographer ran away as fast as he could, and passed the tape off before the police could come after it. According to his story, they did come looking, but were not able to find it. Videographers here in pdx are learning as well. They travel in packs, and film police misconduct from multiple angles. So even if one is attacked, there will be others to tell the story.

As I said above, the fact that officers are allowed to seize the evidence of their own "alleged" misconduct is a glaring conflict of interest. But, as with any abuse of police power, there are ways around it. The more of us out there with cameras in hand, the stronger we are. They can't catch all of us, and the ones who get away will be able to tell the story. If you have a camera, carry it with you always. If you see someone being abused by the police, roll the tape. If you think it might help the victim, feel free to let the cops know they're on camera...but from a distance. Otherwise, be wise, be discreet, and get the fuck outta there when you get the footage.

It's just the world we live in.
it's in the police officer's best interest 08.Apr.2004 19:32

not to have any witnesses

they love it when it's your word against theirs. what happened to the witnesses at the long ago democratic convention in chicago?

Ask for a reciept... 08.Apr.2004 19:57

Tony Blair's dog

BEFORE handing over your camera/s.

Or else don't give it to them.

They can be charged with theft if they don't give a reciept.

Speak the truth 08.Apr.2004 21:26

Migratory Bird

YOur suggestion to ask for a reciept makes sense if only the arrest were not illegal...Sometimes they will fuck up so it is best to ask for as much as posssible and then to start screaming primaly for as many hours as you can imagine. "Do not go quietly into that good night but rage rage against the dying of the light!"

You hated me too, but not as much as I hated you 08.Apr.2004 21:41

The truth

"Under a government which imprisons any man unjustly, the true place for the just man is also a prison." Thoreau, "Civil-Disobedience"

though it's kinda hard 09.Apr.2004 00:42


to do a citizen's arrest on a person who weighs more than you and is lunging at you, etc., I say when a cop steals property like that, he is deemed automatically arrested. I don't mean where we fill out a complaint form, I mean where we ARREST the theif or batterer, whatever. I believe by law, another officer is required to come out and investigate the crime. They have no right to declare there was no crime based on the fact that the suspect is a comrade....
Don't you think it's about time we did this???

liberal misconceptions about how the world works 09.Apr.2004 00:49

har har har

>They can be charged with theft if they don't give a reciept.

Do you actually live in America? When's the last time you saw a cop get "charged" by a district attorney with ANYTHING? D.A.'s don't charge cops, just like cops don't ticket D.A.'s. Cops can storm your house for no reason, break everything they see, and confiscate all your possessions, you'll be lucky if they don't kill you, and they won't get "charged" with anything. YOUR recourse is to personally sue in civil court for damages, if your life isn't so disrupted that you've still got a job and you can afford a lawyer. Show me one time a D.A. charged a pig with "theft" for confiscating something and not doing the paperwork right.

Be prepared 09.Apr.2004 06:54


When you think you might be at a situation that needs a photo witness be prepared with a disposable camera. Have the camera labeled with a return address and stamps. If the police approach you, run away and drop the camera into the mail if you possibly can.

I don't know but maybe just having it labeled as U S mail might make their taking it from you more legally complicated.

Receipt 09.Apr.2004 06:57


Although it would be great if the world worked in such a way that one could demand a receipt from a cop before handing over a camera, that's just not how it is. Try it. Seriously, I had a friend get arrested in another situation last year, for no other reason than the cops wanted his camera. Before this was abundantly clear, when it appeared they were merely coming over to talk to him, he wisely attempted to hand the camera off to someone else. The police grabbed the camera even before they grabbed him. In his case as well, all charges were dropped before he ever set foot in a courtroom, because they knew they were wrong. But they kept the camera for many months. It almost took an act of congress to get it back.

They don't give you the choice of whether you want to hand the camera over to them or not, they just take it. Why? Because there is power in truth, and the police state does not want the people to have that kind of power.

The only reason we have the audio recording of cops tazering Jahar Perez, no doubt, is that they didn't know anyone was recording it. Another time cameras are in jeopardy is in the forest, when eco-terrorist timber companies are cutting down trees. The freddies are ruthless about confiscating cams that get close enough to bear witness to the cutting.

Use Your Zoom.... 09.Apr.2004 09:39


...especially if you have a newer camera with a 540x zoom or better - you can stay fairly far away from the police and get clear footage of the misconduct. No sense at being in harm's way and possibly losing valuable evidence.

Kudos to everyone who's provided footage of police misconduct and terrorism for the various lawsuits - the Bill Ellis and Miranda May cases have footage from start to finish, and the A22 cases have almost everything documented as well. Police lie on their reports, but the video doesn't lie (although corporate media can edit it so that it does).

Advice from an ex-cop 09.Apr.2004 11:35


FIrst off, the camera: take any camera you use down to the post office, have it weighed for postage WITH FILM/TAPE INSIDE, put an address of somebody you trust for the recipient and a different address of somebody local you trust as the return address (using your address may not work, since you may not be out of jail). After you shoot your pictures, RUN. Go ahead and resist arrest here, you will likely beat it in court later. Dunk it in a mailbox (the free standing kind that you can not reach in). Cop would have to get a federal warrant to crack the mailbox, which would likely never happen.

Citizen's arrest: Yes, you legally have the right to arrest a cop that commits armed robbery, and he is legally required to let you. There are some immunity issues they can raise later in court, but the basics are that you can legally do it. No cop will let you however, and he is one radio call away from hundreds of backup cops. You would have to be really strong and really fast to restrain him before he reaches his radio, cuff him and take him either to a judge (if during business hours) or to jail. It is legal for you to do this, but the odds of you pulling off a forcible citizen's arrest on a cop is slim, and you would likely get killed in the process.

Better than a citizen's arrest: This works in most states, but I have never seen it done here in oregon. Fill out a request for an arrest warrant, take it to a judge in between trials, have him sign it and take it to the clerk for filing. This sounds more complicated than it really is, just go to the court clerk and ask for a copy of any old arrest warrant, retype the form EXACTLY as it is, just change the names, dates, etc (don't mention that the criminal is a cop, it is not actually necessary). Look up the oregon statute that covers this officer's crime (I suggest not listing too many, judges like them simple), such as robbery, assault, etc. Stay away from any charges but the mundane ones (don't list obscure crimes like official corruption, the judge will want to have a hearing before signing that one). Walk into any courtroom in the county courthouse, wait until there is a break in the process and say "pardon me your honor." He/she will ask what you want, tell him you want to petition for an arrest warrant. The judge will take it from there and decide yes or no. If yes, you take it to the court clerk to file it. If no, go to another judge. And another one, and so on.

Once you have this warrant issued, simply find out where this officer works and what shift he is on (you can do that with a formal open records act request, PPB accepts them via e-mail or in person). Call the sheriff's office on a weekend or hiliday or after business hours, tell them the exact current location of a person who has a felony warrant out for his arrest, and watch the fun. The sheriff is a better choice for the arresting agency, since there is less of a good old boy system between departments when compared to cops in the same uniform. Also, the sheriff (or any cop) does not have a legal right to refuse to arrest the bad cop, since the warrant is a judicial command. If (and I promise this is a rare occurance) the cop refuses to serve the warrant, you get to sick the police on him for failing to follow a judicial order and failure to perform his duties.

To ex-cop 09.Apr.2004 11:59


Whatta great scheme. Could this work on Marty Rowley (Badge #8969)? He's assaulted numerous citizens with pepper spray. We have pictures. Or how about Hanousek? Kruger? Sery? MCCOLLISTER???

If it's this easy, why haven't we tried this before? I know I'm gonna give it a try next time I have reason. Not that I expect the legal system to do anything for the people, but it'll be fun anyway. And that's what it's all about, after all.

from ex-cop 09.Apr.2004 12:20


Won't work on McCollister, or any other cop that you did not witness. Will work for any cop that you witnessed though. It basically is an evidence thing, if You saw it, than YOU can get the warrant. If somebody ELSE saw it, that makes the evidence you have heresay and the odds of a judge issuing a warrant based on an investigation carried out by other-than-public entities is nil. He would just tell you to take the info you have gathered to the cops. I can think of a dozen PPB cops right off hand that need to be arrested, and there is no doubt they did the crimes I suspect them of, and no lack of evidence to convict them. But since I did not witness the events first-hand, I would need to carry a badge again to have any hope of getting a warrant (and frankly, I would NOT want to be a Portland cop, I would spend al my time trying and failing to convince every passerby that I was not like Marty Rowley. Would you believe somebody in a PPB uniform who tried to tell you he was not a facist cop? I handed over my badge a while ago and would not pick one up again until I had a department worth working for).

But first hand info, things you personally have seen, keeps the chain of evidence controll intact. You could then get the warrant, have it served, fill out the complaint for the DA to file as charges, etc. Do it on a friday before a three day weekend, and by the time the good old boy system catches on to what is up it will be too late.

this Marty Rowley 09.Apr.2004 12:50

his nieghbors say

he is a drunk and wife-beater. Why is he on Portland Police Bureau?

They can't take the tape if you're not using one 09.Apr.2004 15:23


Maybe Starbucks is good for something after all. As long as your near one, you can webcast the piggies to your hearts content.


I heard Marty quit drinking 09.Apr.2004 15:55

gossip hound

I heard he USED to be a drunk, but now counsels other cops with alcohol problems. I think he snorts pepper spray for fun now. Didn't know he was a wife beater. Yuck.

He's kinda been behaving himself lately, though. Haven't seen him whip out the nasty red cannister on any little girls in awhile. Maybe he's reformed.

interesting there, gossip hound 09.Apr.2004 16:40

that you'd say

Marty Rowland "now counsels other cops with alcohol problems" as why are we paying for other cops with
ALCOHOL PROBLEMS? Aren't these the kind of problem pigs that we're suppose to be getting rid of?

Advice from an ex-postal worker 09.Apr.2004 20:35


If the cops ask a postal employee, I guarantee they will get that camera out of the mailbox for them.

Ex-Cop 09.Apr.2004 22:52


I would believe you if you told me you weren't a fascist cop. It seems these other cops do their best to convince the public that they are fascist cops, so your behavior would stand out and be believable. But I'm sure you faced difficulties. So sorry we lost a good one, because we need them.

On Cops and alcohol 10.Apr.2004 14:26

gossip hound

Actually, alcoholism is not something that a person ought to be judged on. People can't help that. And cops are, alas, people too. So judge them on their sloppy work, their phallic need to shoot people, their trigger happy pepper-sprayin ways. Judge them on their need to have power over others, and their uncountable abuses of authority. But not on whether or not they're alcoholics. As for Marty, he may be an ass, but I think it's admirable that he's at least trying to do something positive. (Let's hope he's only counseling them on alcoholism, and not on anything else.)

Dunking Cameras 12.Apr.2004 01:09

one thing

Dropping a preaddressed/stamped tape, film, or a disposable camera into a mailbox is a good idea if you can get to one. But I wouldn't recommend this for a video camera. You're probably more likely to loose your camera for good by dropping it two feet into a metal box and breaking it than having to demand it back by harassing the DA.