In Sherman, Texas, a police officer with the Paris Police Department – Officer Derek Belcher – was caught on video, including his own body cam, taunting the father of a young man who was shot by police several months earlier. The father was upset that his suicidal son was shot in the back by police officers, resulting in paralyzation. Apparently, the father had been expressing his displeasure with the Paris Police Department, including by “flipping” them off, which as I’ve discussed in prior videos, is a constitutionally protected activity under the First Amendment. Following the release of the footage, Officer Belcher was placed on administrative leave.
You can watch the body cam from the man’s son being shot here.
Here’s a new West Virginia video I received out of Morgan County, West Virginia, showing an interaction between some young guys and multiple sheriff’s deputies outside a bar. What it shows is troubling, but not surprising: police officers who can’t control their temper when interacting with someone who is running their mouth – or as the courts call it, “mere words.” Here in the Fourth Circuit, police cannot use violent physical force in response to someone’s “mere words,” – even if they perceive them as obstruction or threats. See United States v. Cobb, 905 F.2d 784, 789 (4th Cir. 1990).
This clip started making the rounds on Tik Tok and now it just popped up on the news here in West Virginia that the agency has ordered an independent investigation into the footage by an outside agency:
Morgan County Sheriff KC Bohrer says, “I have requested an investigation into the matter by an independent agency to be totally transparent and through.”
He says the issue will be ” thoroughly and impartially investigated” and asked for patience during the investigation. “As in any investigation it takes time to gather all the facts.”
This happened on December 3, 2022. The guy they’re talking to had been assaulted in a bar Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. His friend called police. After they arrived, it became clear that they didn’t intend to help. So one of the men began to film.
Apparently, after the video turns off, both men were placed in the rear of a police car for a while. Shortly afterwards they were released with no charges. The one guy was finally able to go to the hospital and receive medical treatment.
There does appear to me to be some constitutional violations in there. I really need to see the police report and the 911 communications to gather all the facts before giving a more informed opinion. In fact, I already submitted a FOIA request. Not surprisingly, given that an investigation was ordered, they’ve already denied my request:
Hopefully this isn’t one of those situations where an investigation is ordered and then… nothing is ever released. There seems to be an awful lot of those in West Virginia.
Most people understand and accept that citizens have a constitutional right to record video of interactions with police officers, at this point – in general. Law enforcement has fought that every step of the way, of course. But is there a right to “livestream” encounters with police officers? More specifically, does a passenger of a vehicle detained at a traffic stop have a constitutional right to livestream the encounter from his cell phone?
Dijon Sharpe was a passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation in Winterville, North Carolina on October 9, 2018. WPD officers Myers Helms and William Ellis performed the stop. Sharpe began live streaming the encounter with Facebook live. Helms told Sharpe that he could record the traffic stop from inside the car during the encounter but not livestream the traffic stop from inside the car during the traffic stop.
At the beginning of the stop, while the driver and Mr. Sharpe waited for the officers to approach the vehicle, the driver called a third party on his cell phone in order to have a witness to what was happening. Meanwhile, Sharpe began live-streaming what was happening on his Facebook account. The livestream shows that, during the stop, the driver continued his conversation with the third party on his cell phone during the entire course of the stop, including while speaking with the officers. The footage shows the interaction between Mr. Sharpe – the passenger – and Officer Helms. The video shows Officer Helms asking for Mr. Sharpe’s identification and then returning to the police vehicle. During this time, the driver continued his conversation with the third party over the cell phone, explaining that police had begun following the vehicle for some time before initiating the traffic stop. He expressed concern that he had been racially profiled.
As the driver was talking to the third party on his phone, Sharpe talks into his phone, reassuring viewers on Facebook live that he was fine, advocating for his practice of recording interactions with law enforcement. According to the lawsuit he would subsequently file, Sharpe began recording because he had been the victim of a brutal beating at the hands of police officers in the nearby town of Greenville ten months earlier, during a traffic stop. That experience prompted him to ensure any future interactions he had with law enforcement would be recorded for his own protection.
After emerging from the police vehicle, Officer Helms is seen on the video approaching the car window. He says, “What have we got? Facebook Live, cous?” As soon as Mr. Sharpe responds affirmatively, Officer Helms abruptly thrusts his arm through the passenger window and attempts to seize Mr. Sharpe’s cell phone, while pulling on Sharpe’s seatbelt and shirt. During this altercation, Officer Helms tells Sharpe: “We ain’t gonna do Facebook Live, because that’s an officer safety issue.”
Shortly afterwards, following the issuance of citations to the driver, Officer Ellis states: “Facebook Live . . . we’re not gonna have that, okay, because that lets everybody y’all follow on Facebook that we’re out here…” He says that recording is fine, but if you’re live, your phone is gonna be taken. Otherwise you’re going to jail. Sharpe then asked Ellis if that was a law. Ellis responded that it was a violation of the RDO statute, which is basically North Carolina’s obstruction statute. In the end, the phone was not seized. There was no citation or arrest pertaining to the livestreaming. However, the threat was made that next time, the phone would be seized and an arrest would be made if the phone was not forfeited.
In Mr. Sharpe’s video, look how the officer is standing there watching Sharp and the driver and treating them like they’re up to no good. Yet the reason for the stop was supposedly a basic traffic violation. The officer asks for Sharp’s ID because “he likes to know” who he’s out with. Is it any wonder that police officers get the reputation they have?
Based on the incident, as well as the threat to stop livestreaming in the future, under penalty of arrest, Sharpe sued the officers and the Town of Winterville under Section 1983 for violation of the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the claims against the individual officers on qualified immunity grounds, holding that it was not clearly established in October of 2018 that a passenger in a stopped vehicle had a constitutional right to record and live broadcast the interaction. Additionally, the Court held that live-streaming by a vehicle passenger poses a “unique” threat to officer safety that mere recording does not and is therefore not clearly protected under the First Amendment.
Eleven months later, the district court dismissed the claim against the Town of Winterville on the grounds that Mr. Sharpe had no constitutional right to live broadcast at all, and that even if he did, the town’s policy of arresting traffic stop passengers for live-streaming passes constitutional review under intermediate scrutiny. The district court held that “[r]ecording a traffic stop for publication after the traffic stop versus livestreaming an ongoing traffic stop from inside the stopped car during the traffic stop are significantly different.”
“[L]ivestreaming the interaction from inside the stopped car during the traffic stop … allows … those watching, to know the location of the interaction, to comment on and discuss in real-time the interaction, and to provide the perspective from inside the stopped car,” JA81. “The perspective from inside the stopped car, for example, would allow a viewer to see weapons from inside the stopped car that an officer might not be able to see and thereby embolden a coordinated attack on the police.” Thus the Court concluded that Mr. Sharpe had no First Amendment right to live-stream.
Mr. Sharpe appealed to the Fourth Circuit. It drew significant attention from civil liberties and press advocates. Seven amicus briefs were filed in support of his claims. Here’s Sharpe’s opening brief:
Oral arguments were held last month, which involved a heated discussion between one of the federal judges on the panel and the lawyer representing Mr. Sharpe. During the oral arguments, the federal judge seemed highly concerned about the rights of police officers, as opposed to the rights of an innocent citizen being detained as a passenger in a traffic stop. Listen for yourself.
The Fourth Amendment grants no rights to officers. “The right of the PEOPLE to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated …” Its purpose is to guarantee individual rights against the power of the government.
This flies in the face of actual Fourth Amendment law. They are using amorphous and general concerns over “officer safety” that are not particular to the individual they are seeking to restrict. In other words, the officers here, and those advocating for them to do so, want the officers to have the power to stop livestreaming, based only on obscure general concerns over officer safety. Theoretically, if some bad guy was watching the livestream he could find the location while the stop is in progress and theoretically harm the officers or cause some other safety issue.
They’re not saying that this particular individual should not livestream under these circumstances, because that person is a particular safety threat and those facts can be demonstrated in court or to a judge. They’re using blanket reasons. Again, that flies in the face of existing Fourth Amendment law, which requires particularity to the individual for things like frisks and searches. Blanket reasons never go well with constitutional law. Usually we’re told that law enforcement actions were justified based on the “totality of the circumstances.” Well now, because they hate video footage, we no longer look at the totality of the circumstances, but rather, at the vague concept that police officers are afraid of absolutely everything and everyone.
The fact is, freedom is scary. They need to deal with it, or get another job. We cannot and must not appease that fear.
Once again, a police officer films himself committing a civil rights violation. This is an extremely important issue. It’s already super easy for police officers to stop and detain an innocent person just following a driver long enough and looking for one of the hundreds of available traffic law violations, or even by just lying about observing a traffic law violation. We’ve all known compulsive liars. They justify their behavior in their own minds by convincing themselves that they’re telling the truth – or that it’s for a good cause. When it comes to police officers and constitutional rights, our freedom hangs in the balance. It’s a slippery slope, so there can be no compromise.
In this footage we see an unlawful stop, based completely on a lie, documented by the officers’ own dash cam footage. It makes no difference, legally speaking, whether the lie was malicious, or done with good intentions. This is where most of us will encounter police officers. This is also where police officers can easily get away with racial profiling or other discrimination or harassment of innocent people. The threshold is very, very low for police officers to lawfully stop a vehicle and detain the driver. Where they are caught doing so illegally, there needs to be consequences and accountability.
Fortunately, there may be some accountability coming for these police officers. This footage comes to us from a fantastic new video released by the Institute for Justice, detailing a section 1983 lawsuit they just filed this month in Louisiana. I’ll post a link to the video and press release by the IJ in the description. I also urge you to donate to their cause. They do fantastic work protecting our freedom.
On June 15, 2022, Mario Rosales and his passenger Gracie, were driving in Alexandria, Louisiana. They both worked for an HVAC business and had just left from work. It was around 5 p.m. In his red Mustang, while sitting at a traffic light, Mario properly signaled a left turn and then proceeded to turn left. Two police officers with the Alexandria Police Department, Jim Lewis and Samuel Terrell, were behind him. The officers had no reason to suspect that Mario had committed any crime, including a traffic violation. His tags were current. The vehicle was in proper working order and didn’t appear to give rise to any justification for a traffic stop. There was no lawful reason for the stop.
Here’s the full raw footage:
In the end, due to the fishing expedition, the officers end up charging Mario with three violations: failure to signal, and two hyper-technical violations pertaining to residence and vehicle registration. Fortunately, all three charges were dismissed. Assuming that someone on a bench somewhere was looking at this footage and measuring it against the Constitution, those charges had to be dismissed. Why? Because the initial stop was illegal. Therefore, everything that happened afterwards is fruit of the poisonous tree. Well, the failure to signal was easily disproved by the video footage. But the two hyper-technical residency violations would also have to be thrown out because they were only discovered as a result of the officers’ illegal behavior.
Police officers must have reasonable suspicion that the driver committed a crime or traffic violation in order to justify a traffic stop detainment. In order to have valid reasonable suspicion here, the officers must have had some belief particular to Mario, based on the totality of the circumstances, that Mario committed some violation. Just a hunch by Officer Fifth Amendment here is not enough. His instincts are either way, way off, or he racially profiled Mario. Or maybe he just doesn’t like Mustangs. Either option violates the Fourth Amendment.
Even if there was a failure to signal, what other problems would we have here? As I explained in a previous video about traffic stops: The Fourth Amendment prohibits police officers from prolonging a traffic stop beyond the time necessary to investigate (and write a ticket for) a traffic violation unless the officers have reasonable suspicion that the stopped vehicle’s occupants are engaging in other crimes. Officers may detain the driver only for the time necessary to complete the tasks associated with the reason for the stop. Once the traffic-related basis for the stop ends (or reasonably should have ended), the officer must justify any further “seizure” on a reasonable suspicion that the driver is committing those other crimes.
As we saw in the footage, this wasn’t just a regular traffic stop, Officer Fifth Amendment chose to take Mario out of his car, for an extended period of time and question him about criminal allegations completely unrelated to the supposed reason for the stop. For that to be legal, the officer would need to have separate reasonable suspicion particular to Mario – not just anyone and everyone he stops – that Mario may be involved in the suspected illegal activity. Thus even if the failure to signal allegation wasn’t a lie, the Fourth Amendment would still be violated. And then there’s a First Amendment violation in there for refusing Mario and Gracie the option of filming these lying police officers. That is well explained in the IJ’s complaint
In April of 2020, a 72 year old combat veteran, himself a retired law enforcement officer, was arrested in his barbershop, for refusing to close his business during the lockdown ordered by our Governor. The criminal case is long over. The civil lawsuit that I filed is also over at this point. But the footage is a good reminder about your government.
Government employees will follow orders. Law enforcement will follow orders, constitutional or not. It doesn’t matter whether they have an American flag tattoo and/or sticker on their truck. It doesn’t matter whether they spout off on the inter-webs about patriotism and the Constitution. They’ll follow orders. And never count on the judiciary to hold them accountable.
When Winerd “Les” Jenkins first became a barber, Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet set foot on the moon. For over five decades, Jenkins has made a living with his scissors and razor. For the past decade, he’s worked his craft from a storefront in Inwood, West Virginia. At Les’ Place Traditional Barber Shop, you can get a regular men’s haircut for $16 and a shave for $14—but come prepared to pay the old-fashioned way: in cash.
His insistence on “cash only” isn’t the only thing that’s old-school about Jenkins. He lives with his wife of 52 years on a small farm, where the couple raises rescued animals. He believes in paying his bills on time. He doesn’t use the internet, email, or text messaging. And he’s skeptical that his profession can become illegal overnight merely on the governor’s say-so.
He was ultimately arrested by two deputies from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, who transported Mr. Jenkins for incarceration and charged him with “obstructing” an officer.
The prosecuting attorney’s office of that county then aggressively prosecuted Mr. Jenkins for the better part of a year, until the judge finally dismissed the charge in January of 2021, finding that it would be a violation of Mr. Jenkins’s constitutional rights to prosecute him for violating the governor’s executive order. He beat the criminal charge. Here’s an excerpt of the dismissal order:
In the subsequent civil lawsuit, we asserted two separate violations of Mr. Jenkins’ Fourth Amendment rights (unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest), as well as a violation of Mr. Jenkins’ First Amendment rights. Here’s the original complaint:
The point is, here is concrete proof that it matters not whether your local police officer is a nice guy, or patriotic, or whatever. They will follow orders. They are agents of the government. If they don’t do it, they will be replaced with someone who will. But they will do it, I assure you – even if they personally disagree with it. It would be a tragedy to lose the pension and dental plan, of course. Don’t get confused about the difference between an individual’s personality and personal beliefs and their status as an agent of the government. There are countless examples of this, going back to the beginning of our republic. Don’t get caught ignorant.
On August 25, 2019 in Worcester, Massachusetts, police officers arrived outside Cornerstone Baptist Church. They were there attempting to retrieve a child after receiving a report of a custody dispute involving the granddaughter of the church’s pastor, Joseph Rizzuti, Sr. Officers arrived at the church to retrieve the child after the child’s father alleged that the mother had failed to return the child following a visit. Officers wrote in their reports that churchgoers and family members kept interfering, refused orders by police and resisted arrest. The body cam footage shows what happened. The church’s pastor, Joseph Rizzuti, Sr., stands outside the church, telling his daughter to leave. Worcester Police Sgt. Michael Cappabianca, Jr., walks over to him.
Is there a First Amendment right to call a police officer a “tyrant?” Yes. Does it matter whether he’s actually a tyrant or not? No. Does it matter whether you’re a pastor standing in front of your church or a homeless guy with a cardboard sign? No.
This is a case where plain-clothed police officers snuck into my client’s house through a window, searched his house without a warrant or other legal justification, found nothing and left. But they got caught on hidden surveillance cameras.
Long story short, there was no justification for their actions. No search warrant, no exigent circumstances and certainly no consent. Those are the only three justifications under the Fourth Amendment. As it turned out, the only purported reason they were there was to serve a civil summons, as the landlord had begun eviction proceedings due to late rent payments. That provided no justification to enter or search the home. The matter had not gone to court yet. There was no eviction order. The officers were investigated and disciplined. The only excuse given was that they didn’t read the paperwork, and thought there was an eviction order, and figured that since they’re a drug task force, they’d search for drugs while they were at it. We filed a federal Section 1983 suit for Fourth Amendment violations and are currently set for trial early next year.
The last update was about the video depositions in the case. I took the video depositions of the officers from the video. They all pled the Fifth Amendment. Supposedly the FBI is investigating them. It’s pretty clear now after having exchanged discovery and taken almost all the depositions, that this is the story of a drug task force unit designed to use so-called “knock and talk” investigations in lieu of the more-conventional and old-fashioned search warrant procedures.
The video depositions were pretty dramatic. The lawyers for the officers filed a motion for a protective order with the federal court, asking the Court to prohibit me from uploading the video deposition footage to Youtube. They claimed that exposing the sworn testimony of the police officers to the public endangered officer safety and prejudiced the in the eyes of potential future jurors.
A few days ago, the Court ruled, granting them a protective order during the pendency of the case. Then, when the case is over, I have to request the Court to vacate the protective order. But as the Court noted, a few things could happen in the meantime that could moot the issue, such as a settlement agreement, or the video depositions becoming public record, which they ultimately will in the very near future. Here’s the order:
“[T]he Court currently is not in a position to determine whether the protective order should terminate upon adjudication of the case, as that determination depends upon factors not yet known. The issue may become moot, as it is possible that the parties will agree not to publish the videotaped depositions as part of a compromise and settlement. The depositions may also become part of the public record, creating a presumption of public access which would significantly alter the Court’s analysis of the protective order .”
The Court further held that the protective order was not an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech. The Court noted that:
“The Supreme Court explicitly stated that a protective order supported by good cause and limited to pretrial civil discovery, without restricting dissemination of information found in other sources, does not offend the First Amendment.”
The Court also denied the defendants’ request for attorney fees, finding that my actions were “substantially justified.”
As I warned them from the very beginning, trying to suppress this is only going to draw more attention to it. Even if I personally am restricting from uploading the footage to my Youtube channel, what about third parties? Restricting me from using the footage is only going to cause third parties to obtain everything that becomes public record and use it. The coverup is always worse than the original crime. The coverup itself becomes the story.
Two days ago, I took the deposition of two police officers in a civil federal rights lawsuit (section 1983 case) involving an allegation that my client’s exterior home surveillance camera was disabled by the officers. They both pled the Fifth Amendment. Here’s a photo of the actual disabled camera:
This is from the “Creepy Cops Search Case,” which if you’ve been following my work, you’re well-aware-of. But what about situations where they don’t destroy anything, but just cover or move the camera?
I came across some recent unrelated footage of police officers covering, concealing, or otherwise redirecting, a home’s surveillance cameras. When this hit the interwebs, it of course immediately sparked discussion. Police officers defended the footage, claiming officer safety reasons to do this, with some claiming that they always do this as a matter of policy. Is this legal? Is this a Fourth Amendment violation? Is it a First Amendment violation? Is this a crime?
There are a few issues with this. Are we talking about doing this pursuant to the execution of a search warrant for the subject residence. And if so, does the search warrant specifically authorize the seizure of surveillance cameras themselves, rather than the footage?
Isn’t that weird that I just did a video on the issue of whether there’s a constitutionally protected right to flash your lights at oncoming traffic, in order to warn them of an approaching speed trap, and then what do you know, it ends up happening again right here in West Virginia. This brand new exclusive footage you’re about to see however, is the worst of those incidents I think you’ll ever see anywhere on Youtube. Frankly, I’m disgusted by the actions of this deputy with the Nicholas County, West Virginia Sheriff’s Department.
Here’s the citation William was given:
This was Corporal J.D. Ellison with the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Department. His behavior was disgraceful. But I’m also disappointed in the aftermath here. Corporal Ellison shamefully gave this man a ticket for two alleged violations – at least on paper – which were allegedly having an unsigned registration card, which is total garbage, as well as an alleged “special restrictions on lamps,” which was a frivolous charge meant to fabricate the nonexistent crime of warning fellow Americans about government waste, laziness and tyranny.
Here’s the police report by Cpl. Ellison:
You’re really not going to believe this, but William went to court yesterday in the Magistrate Court of Nicholas County – that’s Summersville, West Virginia. He represented himself. He was being prosecuted by a prosecuting attorney from that county, with the matter presiding before Nicholas County Magistrate Michael Hanks. I’m really shocked to tell you that Magistrate Hanks convicted this man of the alleged crime of “Special Restrictions on Lamps.” He did dismiss the bogus charge of having an unsigned registration card because it’s thankfully not even on the books anymore – which by the way was the offense for which William was placed in handcuffs.
Between the prosecutor and the magistrate, which of those great legal minds thought it was a good idea to convict William of “special restriction on lamps?” Just looking at the statute, which is clearly not meant to apply to this situation, it makes an explicit exception, citing a different statute that allows for flashing lights for the purpose of warning the operators of other vehicles “of the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring the exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking or passing…, etc.”
Here’s the prior video I did on flashing lights to warn of a speed trap:
Stay tuned for updates. I’m going to help William….