Florida Deputy Falsely Tells Mother That Recording Him In Public Is A Crime And Proceeds To Drag Her From Car and Arrest Her

Screen-Shot-2014-02-18-at-8.25.43-PM-300x179We have another highly disturbing case involving a police officer who abused and arrested a citizen for recording an encounter. I have previously written about the first amendment right to videotape officers. The courts have consistently upheld this right despite efforts of prosecutors like Anita Alvarez in Cook County to put citizens in jail for such recording. However, police officers continued to misrepresent the law and seize cameras or threaten citizens with arrest. In a cellphone recording (available here), Florida mother Brandy Berning is roughed up and arrested by Broward Sheriff Deputy William O’Brien after he tries to seize her cellphone as evidence of the crime of recording him.

Berning was driving on I-95 when she was stopped for driving in an HOV lane. She decides to hit the record button on her cellphone for her own safety. She is heard telling the officer that she had forgot to mention that she is recording the conversation. O’Brien then responds menacingly. “Well I have to tell you that you just committed a felony.” He then demands her phone, which she refuses. He is then heard forcing his way into the car and trying to grab the phone. Eventually he pulls her out of the car as she screams and back up arrives to assist in the arrest.

She was dragged along the ground and thrown against the cruiser — experiencing cuts and bruises. She spent the night in jail.

Now here are two facts that we have repeatedly seen in these abusive arrest cases. She was never charged with the alleged crime — which does obviously exist. Second, all charges were later dropped.

It turns out that in July all officers received a briefing sheet that stressed that citizens have the right to film officers in public. O’Brien therefore roughed up and arrested a citizen without cause after misinforming her that she was committing a crime in engaging in a constitutionally protected exercise. While Florida is a two-party consent state, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that such consent is not needed with regard to filming police in public.

Brandy-BerningBerning now wisely plans a lawsuit for battery, false arrest, and false imprisonment. Florida will end up paying unnecessary (though warranted) damages and litigation costs because of a failure to properly trained and discipline its officers. The question is what will happen with Officer O’Brien.

I would also like to know why O’Brien was not disciplined after the charges were dropped. Clearly supervisors and/or prosecutors were involved in that decision. Did anyone report O’Brien for discipline? Given the fact that Berning was never even charged with the crime of recording an officer, O’Brien either knew at the time or soon learned that there was no crime. Yet, he proceeded to charge her anyway with other crimes. We also should read his report on the arrest. It would be interesting if he omitted his original claim of criminal conduct (creating a false account) or whether his supervisor was informed that he is arresting people for non-criminal conduct.

In past cases, we have seen no action taken until the media reveals the abuse and even then officers are rarely terminated. Indeed, even in recent decisions dealing with shootings and innocent citizens, officers have not been simply sent to a couple classes on the use of lethal force.

These incidents reveal a sense of dangerous impunity by an officer who believes that he can physically drag citizens from their cars and seize cellphones. That may reflect more than a rogue officer given a prior similar case.

Should this be a terminating offense in your view? I am inclined to view such conduct as moving beyond a matter for simple discipline or retraining. The officer was abusing a citizen engaged in a protected activity after misrepresenting the law. In the very least it shows a shocking lack of personal restraint and judgment that present a public danger in such encounters. What do you think?

Kudos: Michael Blott

66 thoughts on “Florida Deputy Falsely Tells Mother That Recording Him In Public Is A Crime And Proceeds To Drag Her From Car and Arrest Her”

  1. In tennessee your rights are whatever the police give you which in poor peoples cases is none.poor Tennesseans are treated very badly by police and its the job of the police to keep the poor in their on neighborhoods and away from the rich areas of town .police abuse in tennessee is out of control because the legislative branch the governor are afraid of their own police force and refuse to do anything about the abuse the police take great pride in.Good police officers quit in frustration because of so many bad police and the chiefs and higher-ups are afraid to fire the bad ones.O, they let one go now and then to make it look good but it is usually someone who they let retire early or suspend for a few days with pat of-course.As the old saying goes EVIL TAKES CARE OF EVIL AND THE WICKED WATCHES OUT FOR THE WICKED. my opinion

  2. If cases against police settle, then usually nothing detrimental gets recorded in the officer’s personnel jacket, therefore no “reason” to terminate nor evidence of a “pattern” exists. And forget even lawyers trying to get the personnel record to ascertain a pattern in the first place. In addition, most people must continue to live in an area so are fearful to give evidence as a witness or to bring a case because of police retribution. I’ll note that in most places it is difficult to bring a case against a police officer/department because the procedure of notifications are deliberately convoluted so as to make it much more likely such a case would be tossed out or not even make it to the calendar. Checking on the latest detail of the procedure and doing the filings is difficult for even a very experienced lawyer, especially when dealing with those who might seek to deliberately derail a case with misinformation. Furthermore, the police departments generally have their rubber-stamping psychologists, orthopedists, etc., expert witnesses lined up so that if a case actually succeeds to the docket, the victim is intimidated by examiners and often called a liar (albeit in medically legal terms) in expert reports and depositions. Police officers who witness these events are reluctant to cross the blue line (even if there are strong incentives not to protect malfeasant officers). I heard an explanation about how one officer would not make a statement against another because he was cognizant that his life was on the line every time he went into a dangerous building with the Other or the Other’s brothers-in-blue behind him…who had guns. The odds are against the victim, and even settling is not winning the case– a case that has probably dragged on for years. The public is only just now waking up to the possibility that they have gradually created many-tenticled monsters in the police powers put in place and that police are held to completely different standards/regulations. Juries still find it difficult to believe that police could do anything wrong. (While I do not believe the majority act inappropriately, I do believe they are mostly TRAINED to make it EASIER to act inappropriately and that the Blue Line exists anywhere a police force does). Police are certainly no longer there to “keep the peace.” I would not continue to advise my child to seek out the police if he or she were in danger as was common practice to teach in yesteryear. I know of one case that settled and the officer was actually promoted two weeks later giving him more leeway and opportunity to go with his increased authority and discretion. He continued to be an officer and involved in law enforcement for at least many years afterward, in spite of a pattern of abuse before and after the case mentioned, although “somehow” the abuses never seemed to make it into the record. Wonder why.

  3. ishobo,

    Well your suggested punishment might be a little harsh. But I do agree that citizens should be able to file civil law suits against LEOs for false arrest, physical abuse and/or ignoring our basic civil rights.

    Maybe when enough officers and police jurisdictions are sued this illegal behavior might find itself in a major decline. One can always hope.

  4. We need to bring back public crucifixions, for those in positions of authority that do things under the color of law, including falsifying reports and lying under oath. Either this or lift immunity for these people.

  5. Cops know that dragging citizens into jail ruins their whole week, but doesn’t affect them in the least, so long as they get to go home on time.

    I think the punishment should fall upon their boss, and their boss’s boss. That will guarantee the appropriate “ruin your whole week” consequence rains down upon the officer when he abuses his authority.

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