This footage shows a man being confronted, arrested and tased by police officers, after he pulled over on the side of the road to observe and record a traffic stop involving his son. Did he have a right to observe and record the traffic stop? Or can the police make him leave – or worse?
Kenneth Espinoza was driving to a shop to get his truck serviced. His son was following him separately in another vehicle. But then, his son was pulled over by a deputy with the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office, for allegedly following too closely to the police car. His father then pulled over behind the deputy to observe the stop and wait for his son.
But that’s not the main story here. Rather, the story becomes the officers on the scene getting butthurt about the father observing and waiting behind the stop. In the bodycam video, Deputy Henry Trujillo is seen walking up to the father’s window. He tells Espinoza he needs to leave the scene, or else he’ll be charged. Espinoza refuses, but moments later can be seen then attempting to leave the scene, at which point the deputies prevent him from leaving, including by pointing weapons at him.
The footage then shows the father being tased multiple times, including while handcuffed.
Prosecutors have now dropped all charges against Espinoza. He had been charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer. Espinoza’s lawsuit also alleges that Deputy Trujillo shouldn’t have even been a deputy in the first place, due to his criminal history. In 1997 he was charged with felony menacing with a weapon, which was pled down to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The following year, he was convicted of misdemeanor harassment. According to the father’s attorney, that conviction should have barred Trujillo from becoming certified as a police officer in Colorado. There were also multiple restraining orders filed against Trujillo, including a 2006 domestic abuse allegation, including a stalking and assault allegation from 2007. Apparently a protective order was entered against him.
But there’s more. Trujillo was apparently forced to resign from the sheriff’s office in 2009 due to a conviction that is now sealed. What was it? We don’t know. Because it’s sealed. But then, he was rehired in 2010. Then in 2018 he was promoted. Now he’s third in command. The Las Animas County Sheriff released a statement saying he has asked for help from an outside agency to review the actions of his deputies. He said that Deputy Trujillo is still on active duty.
What is the law here? Did the father have a right to wait and observe at his son’s traffic stop? The bodycam footage indicates that the father was not just waiting and observing the stop, but also recording the stop. That’s the most important fact here.
It just so happens that Colorado, which is in the 10th federal circuit, is where case law just dropped last year on this very issue. And it’s not good for the officers. The case is: Irizarry v. Yehia, 38 F.4th 1282 (10th Cir. 2022). Here’s the backstory:
Early in the morning on May 26, 2019, Abade Irizarry, a YouTube journalist and blogger, was filming a DUI traffic stop in Lakewood, Colorado. Officer Ahmed Yehia arrived on the scene and stood in front of Mr. Irizarry, obstructing his filming of the stop. When Mr. Irizarry and a fellow journalist objected, Officer Yehia shined a flashlight into Mr. Irizarry’s camera and then drove his police cruiser at the two journalists.
Mr. Irizarry is a “Youtube journalist and blogger” who “regularly publishes stories about police brutality and conduct or misconduct.” On May 26, 2019, he and three other “YouTube journalists/bloggers” were filming a DUI traffic stop with their cell phones and cameras “for later broadcast, live-streaming, premiers, and archiving for their respective social medial channel[s].”
Here’s what the court held:
Filming the police performing their duties in public is protected activity. Police Officers in Colorado will be deprived of qualified immunity where they violate a citizen’s First Amendment right to film police performing their duties in public and take retaliatory actions against them. Officers standing in front of a camera, threatening violence, including aiming police cruisers at the individual, violate the First Amendment.