Jesse Bright, a full time criminal defense lawyer and part time Uber driver in North Carolina, was pulled over by police in late February. The first thing he did was turn on his phone’s camera and begin to record the traffic stop. “As a lawyer, he said, he believes strongly that when people record their interactions with police, it helps reduce confusion if their cases end up in court.”
Recording police interactions is becoming an absolute necessity, as it offers protections to both civilians and law enforcement by providing an unbiased account of the interaction. This is especially true given this country’s current trend of police militarization and brutality . Not to mention the fact that the laws surrounding the use of police-issued camera footage is often overly restrictive, and that’s if they’re turned on at all.
So imagine the surprise of this lawyer when Sgt. Kenneth Becker told him to not only stop recording him, but that, “there’s a new law. Turn it off, or I’ll take you to jail.” Bright refused. The officers then made Bright step out of the car, called him a ‘jerk’ and threatened that the he had “better hope” the officers didn’t find anything in his vehicle. It was this point that the part-time Uber driver told the police he was a lawyer and knew his rights and that there was no such law prohibiting recording an officer in a public place. The officers searched him, his car, and his passenger. They found nothing and let the men go.
Bright exposed the police lies later, saying, “If a police officer gives you a lawful command and that command is disobeyed, they’ll arrest you. The fact that I wasn’t arrested and he didn’t even try to arrest me is proof that he was being dishonest.”
In a Facebook post made last week, the Wilmington, North Carolina police chief, Ralph Evangelous said that an internal investigation was being performed and that, “Taking photographs and videos of people that are in plain sight including the police is your legal right.” He also said, “As a matter of fact we invite citizens to do so when they believe it is necessary.”
I would argue that since we live in a country where police will lie to citizens about what the law is and what rights they have, it is absolutely necessary to record every single police encounter in order to keep them accountable and even that often fails.
As a lawyer, Bright was fortunate to know his constitutional rights and demand them from police in that instance. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of citizens have no idea what their rights are and even less will demand them when a bully in blue is threatening them with arrest or worse. Until more citizens become aware of their rights and begin to enforce them, police abuse will continue to be a problem.