A criminal-defense attorney in Wilmington, N.C., was pulled over by police recently, and as he began to film his interaction with them on his cellphone, one of the officers falsely told him that there was a new state law that prohibited him from recording the police.
Jesse Bright knew there was no such law in North Carolina. He told the Washington Post that as a lawyer, he believes strongly that when people record their interactions with police, it helps reduce confusion if their cases end up in court.
Bright, who was driving for Uber at the time to make some extra cash, said he was surprised when Wilmington Police Sgt. Kenneth Becker told him it was against the law for him to record.
From the Washington Post:
“Hey, bud, turn that off, OK?” Becker said.
“No, I’ll keep recording, thank you,” Bright responded. “It’s my right.”
“Don’t record me,” the police sergeant said. “You got me?”
“Look,” Bright said, “you’re a police officer on duty. I can record you.”
“Be careful because there is a new law,” Becker said. “Turn it off or I’ll take you to jail.”
“For recording you?” the video shows Bright asking Becker. “What is the law?”
A tense exchange followed, with Becker telling Bright to step out of his car, calling him “a jerk,” then warning him that he “better hope” officers didn’t find something in his vehicle.
Bright continued to record, saying, “I know my rights.”
“I hope so,” said Becker, the police sergeant. “I know what the law is.”
“I know the law,” Bright said. “I’m an attorney, so I would hope I know what the law is.”
“And an Uber driver?” Becker asked.
The Post reports that Bright said he was working for Uber to pay off his law school loans. At the time, he was driving a passenger on a round trip from the man’s home to pick up a paycheck. He was pulled over several moments after the man returned to his car holding a piece of paper.
Officers told Bright that he had taken the man to a drug house that was under surveillance, and they searched Bright’s passenger.
“They said I should have known it was a drug house, and I tried to tell them I was an Uber driver,” Bright said. “They thought it was some sort of cover.”
In a statement posted to the Wilmington, N.C., Police Department Facebook page, Chief Ralph Evangelous said the following:
The Wilmington Police Department has launched an internal investigation regarding a recent video-tape of a February 26, 2017, interaction between one of our Police Sergeants and an Uber Driver. While we are not at liberty to discuss the investigation, we do believe it is crucial that we address a question that has surfaced as a result of that video-tape.
“Taking photographs and videos of people that are in plain sight including the police is your legal right. As a matter of fact we invite citizens to do so when they believe it is necessary. We believe that public videos help to protect the police as well as our citizens and provide critical information during police and citizen interaction.” Chief Ralph Evangelous
A copy of this statement will be disseminated to every officer within the Wilmington Police Department.
Bright told the Post that the officers searched him and his car but did not find anything, so both he and his passenger were told they were free to go, and neither man was charged with a crime.
Uber told the Post in a statement: “We encourage all riders and drivers to follow the law.”
Bright said that he never had any doubt that Becker was lying to him about the do-not-film law.
“If an officer gives you a lawful command and that command is disobeyed, they’ll arrest you,” Bright said. “The fact that I wasn’t arrested and he didn’t even try to arrest me is proof that he was being dishonest.”
Bright also said that Becker’s commands to stop recording, as well as searches to which he did not consent, violated his constitutional rights, and he noted that it is in an officer’s best interest to suppress video because it allows police to dictate the narrative later if a case arises.
More from the Post:
During his interactions with Becker, Bright also asked a New Hanover County sheriff’s deputy at the scene to tell him whether a new law had, in fact, been passed that would prohibit him from recording police.
“I’ve never heard of this law that you’re not allowed to record the police anymore—it must be brand-new,” Bright said.
“Well, they just recently passed it,” the deputy responded.
“Like super recently?” Bright asked. “It seems like a strange law.”
New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon told ABC affiliate WWAY that after reviewing the video, it was clear that his deputy was incorrect, and has been counseled.
The sheriff’s department said in a statement that “not only does the sheriff agree that it is legal to record encounters, he invites citizens to do so.”
Bright said he went public with his video after Becker refused to return his phone calls and the department never apologized.
Although he does not want the officers involved to be punished, he hopes to let the public know that they have a right to film the police.
“I think the video shows that the police are willing to lie in order to coerce people into doing what they want them to do,” Bright said. “You just have to know your rights.”
Read more at the Washington Post.