We have been following the continuing abuse of citizens who are detained or arrested for filming police in public. (For prior columns, click here and here). Despite consistent rulings upholding the right of citizens to film police in public, these abuses continue. There is a new case out of Miami of a citizen, freelance disc jockey Lazaro Estrada, who was arrested for obstruction of justice despite the fact that witnesses say that he was merely taping an arrest at a store.
Estrada was spinning records at a store promotion when Miami-Dade Ofc. Michael Valdez reportedly arrived at the store to arrest owner Andre Trigiano on outstanding misdemeanor traffic charges. Estrada pulled out his iPhone and the video shows the officer standing on the sidewalk about twenty feet away holding Trigiano. He gestures for Estrada to move back and Estrada appears to comply. He goes back into the store but is later pulled out by other officers. Valdez reportedly claims in the arrest report that Estrada refused to comply with orders to back off. Valdez is shown confronting Estrada and saying that the arrestee was armed (he had a permit).
In his police report, Valdez states that “I felt threatened by his presence.” The video does not suggest any reasonable basis to claim such a threat or that Estrada failed to obey the officer’s orders.
The video contradiction of the police account is all too familiar on this blog. Of course, in Dallas, Dallas Police Chief David Brown revealed a new policy that would require officers involved in a shooting to wait 72 hours before making a statement. The policy came after a scandal where a surveillance video showed one of Brown’s officers shooting a mentally ill suspect for no apparent reason. The video contradicted the officer’s testimony and undermined the charge against the victim. Brown’s solution was not greater disciplining and monitoring of officers but to impose a delay to allow officers to craft their statements. I would have thought that such a proposal would have resulted in the termination of Brown but he continues to run a major police department.
The question is how this officer’s report and arrest will be addressed if this video is found to be an accurate perspective of the events. Judging from the video alone, the arrest appear bogus and the representations made in the report appear facially untrue. In the past, we have seen charges dropped but no discipline for officers. The result is that officers can continue to punish citizens by forcing them to go to jail, secure counsel, and take other steps to get the charges dropped. That can create an obvious chilling effect on citizen’s engaging in this protected activity.
The department has not responded to media inquiries so we do not have the officer’s response to the content of this video.