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. That woman has a lot of courage and I commend her for her stand. Now she needs to sue that police officer, the police department and the city. Unfortunately she’ll have to hire a lawyer to represent her and we all know lawyers are first and foremost officers of the court and the court is not in business to protect the people but to fleece them.

    Everyone should know their rights, know how to enforce those rights, know how the legal system works and prosecute all perps with extreme prejudice. Lacking that, we have no rights.

  2. until the citizens can fire and reprimand officers, this will continue in pretty much every state.

  3. Another example that I find asking myself, “Who keeps the Public safe from the police?”

    I’ve been told that Lawyers do…
    … But I’m hard pressed to find articles where someone has a lawyer with them when they get abused by the police to prove to me that lawyers keep people safe FROM police abuses. Sure, after the fact, IF you have the evidence, a lawyer could represent you, however, in the moment of the abuse, an absent lawyer means the Public will be abused by the local “PEACE OFFICER”.

    Lawyers, get in the streets.
    The Rule of Law is under attack by the current Administration.
    Your silence is screwing America over.

  4. AP:

    In addition to what Chuck said some departments require their officers to be at the station 1/2 hour before shift “to get ready for their shift” there has been incidents where this was abused by departments because they went at it with the angle of the officers were not on duty for time card purposes because they were dressing but it was convenient for the department to have them there early but didn’t want to pay for it.

    We had a pretty lax system at my department. We had takehome cars so in theory we could sign into service as soon as we left our front door and got into our cars. If you were running a couple minutes behind you could just use your portable radio, sign in, and finish getting ready. But we worked 12 hour shifts and us and the other crews had a tradition of signing in 15 or 20 minutes early so that the other shift could sign out and go homesooner. 12 hours later we would return the courtesy. Working night shift going home 20 minutes earlier was quite welcome.

  5. Nick : “Public employees seem to have a fundamental problem w/ reality.”

    Are you saying Patricia’s a public employee?
    Wayne: In all reality, a wolf has never threatened you and never will. I’d like to think that you really are letting them go about their business

  6. Professor,

    Don’t take this criticism too harshly, but the headline makes it sound like the cop dragged his own mother from the car because she recorded him. Now, that would be police misconduct.

  7. My two-link, curse-word free post has been eaten. I know it cannot be freed, but if it can be seen, did I mess up in how I set it up???? Maybe WordPress is just chewing slowly and will spit it out after a few minutes????

  8. Sounds to me like the department followed through with the training; it was the disciplining they failed to administer. After all the press about court decisions and news stories about citizens having the right to film officers, an officer would have to be living under a rock to not know he cannot behave as the officer did in this story.

    It seems that the reason so many police officers continue to misrepresent the law is that they seem to know there will be no repercussions for them personally. How many of these situations actually end with the officer being disciplined or fired or personally (and successfully) sued?

  9. ap,
    Getting dressed is only part of it. This is time one could spend with families, leaving later for work and getting home earlier. Additionally, almost all departments require boots and shoes to be shined to pass inspection. It took my daughter anywhere from an hour to 1½ hours to shine her boots and do it right. Working twelve hour shifts is pretty much standard, so she always planned a 15 hour workday when driving time was added in.

  10. Meds may not cure ignorance… Give em enough and they will cease being able to speak……

    Obamas got enough of his own double dealings to wrestle with… Bush, Regean, Clinton have there own as well…..

  11. “I don’t recall hearing stories like this before Obama was elected.” Typical racist crap. Tea partiers paid absolutely no attention as law-and-order, just-say-no types like Nixon, Reagan, and Bush pursued their Southern strategy, and then, jarred out of their complacency by the election of a black man, they decide he is to blame for everything that is wrong in the world. “Communist”? Obama? Meds don’t cure ignorance.

  12. Glad to read that a few of you advised Patricia about staying on her meds. What is the common denominator for being in the police force? I’ve never been one to jump into cop bashing, but my tolerance for them is quickly fading.

  13. OT:

    “Should deputies be paid for putting on their pants?”

    February 14th, 2014, 1:23 pm, Updated: Feb. 16, 2014 1:17 p.m.


    “Most agree that taxpayers should pay police well for risking their lives in the line of duty.

    But should they be paid for the time they spend strapping on their gun belt and bulletproof vest? Or tying their boot laces? What if the department insists they dress in the stationhouse, instead of at home?

    Hundreds of Orange County Sheriff’s deputies sued the department between 2005 and 2012, saying they spent up to 30 minutes getting dressed before work, and up to 28 minutes undressing – and they weren’t getting compensated.”

Comments are closed.