People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Developments in the World of Copwatching:
A few items of interest to Copwatchers in Portland and around the nation:
First, on February 12, local activist Carrie Medina briefly had her cell phone camcorder taken by Gresham Officer Taylor Letsis, working for the Transit Police, when he said her video contained evidence of a crime. Such nonsense was supposed to have stopped after Joe Anybody had his camcorder confiscated and returned to him, prompting a change in the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) policy to allow taping police in public (PPR #46). The crimes in question, of course, are the police brutality and misconduct captured, not the alleged suspect's activities that the cops are implying (although such activities might inadvertently be captured by copwatchers). Medina's ordeal was picked up on KBOO, in mainstream local news, and on the website "Photography is Not A Crime" (February 13). Medina says that Letsis used excessive force, twisting her arms behind her back in obtaining the camcorder, then threatening to take her to jail if she didn't show him the footage. His concern: That she captured images of two officers tackling a youth. (The web article states that Letsis was previously caught on video beating and using a Taser on a man who didn't have a transit ticket.)
This incident brings up other issues besides the right to record: The ongoing inappropriateness of having the PPB lead the Transit Division, but having individual officers from other agencies responsible for following their own policies and being disciplined in their home jurisdictions (PPR #40).
Second, a new Portland group calling themselves "FTP" (for "Film the Police," not what you were thinking) has begun civilian patrols to observe police behavior, not much unlike what Portland Copwatch does, but with more emphasis on recording video (PCW's patrols usually emphasize educating people on their rights, making notes on police behavior, with video as one element of "copwatching"). FTP grew out of Occupy Portland and currently has several videos on youtube under the username Mike BlueHair.
Third, in a follow up to their letter involving a Baltimore case (Garcia v. Montgomery County), the US Department of Justice filed an official statement in federal court affirming the right to record law enforcement officers under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendments-- protecting the video from being unlawfully seized (Politico.com, March 8). The USDOJ's Civil Rights Division "is concerned that discretionary charges, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, are all too easily used to curtail expressive conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights. ... Core First Amendment conduct, such as recording a police officer performing duties on a public street, cannot be the sole basis for such charges." The lawsuit stems from a journalist who photographed cops in a possible excessive force scenario from ten yards away, but was arrested, got thrown to the ground, had his camera's memory card taken, and was charged with disorderly conduct. The right to record has been affirmed in several states. We can only hope that a federal law or court ruling will resolve this issue once and for all in favor of the public's right to know.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.