Recently, a video was seen on television showing a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy questioning a woman on a train. The woman was facing two deputies. One was a woman and one a man. Both deputies were in uniform and both were substantially larger than the woman they were contacting. During the conversation another passenger began to video the incident. After the woman appeared to be non-responsive, or at least not responding as the deputies would like, the male deputy suddenly elbowed her in the face with a violent and vicious forearm. Upon seeing the passenger videotaping the incident the deputy tried to seize the cell phone. The citizen refused to turn over his cell phone to the deputy fearing the video would be erased or tampered with and the true nature of the incident lost forever.
First of all, a citizen does not have to relinquish his or her video equipment to law enforcement just because they demand it. It is your personal property and without further justification, for example a search warrant, unless the citizen voluntarily surrenders it, your personal property is just that, yours. In this case, I have no doubt that if the deputy had taken possession of the citizen’s camera that video would have been destroyed.
Secondly, in defending people charged with crimes I have learned that the truth of exactly what happened isn’t always reflected accurately in the police reports. Now that video has become so easy and so available to anyone with a cell phone, many times the incidents between citizens and law enforcement are captured on video. One can argue that the video doesn’t capture the whole incident or that it somehow misrepresents what happened or what occurred before the camera was turned on, but one cannot deny the truth that cameras help criminal defendants more than they hurt. I would much rather have a video of the encounter between the police and my client. With video cameras the jury and anyone else can see what really happened and no amount of spin in the police reports will disguise the truth.