Civil Liberties

Miami Beach Police vs. Citizens With Cameras


I've written quite a bit about the cops vs. cameras issue over the last couple years. I can't recall a story as egregious as this one, from the Miami New Times. It's about four men who suffered the wrath of Miami Beach police after they filmed a frightening confrontation with a cop who nearly killed them by cutting them off in traffic, then pulled them over, then screamed at them for filming the encounter.

That confrontation, filmed in 2009, was the first of dozens that Hammonds and three friends caught on tape. They've paid dearly, spending thousands on legal fees and tickets, and sleeping multiple nights in county lockup. They've even seen their faces plastered on a warning flyer sent to departments around Miami-Dade County…

They never planned to become police agitators. But when Bredwell tried to retrieve his seized Sony camera the day after that first incident, he says Miami Beach police claimed not to have it in the evidence room.

A week later, the friends returned to police headquarters to try again. This time, they brought a full assortment of cameras and mics. They shot footage of the cops stonewalling Bredwell again. When officers noticed the cameras, they arrested Hammonds and charged him with obstruction of justice, loitering, and trespassing. He says an officer grabbed him by his hair in an interrogation room and then locked him in a sweltering van for two hours in 90-degree heat…

Miami Police Department officers, meanwhile, say they only arrest camera-toting civilians like Hammonds when they harass cops and break the law. "When you go beyond filming to trying to piss off an officer, you're subject to arrest," says Delrish Moss, a department spokesman.

Sorry, but while "pissing off an officer" isn't advisable, it also isn't a crime. And if you arrest someone who merely pisses you off but has committed no underlying crime, you're violating his rights and you're violating the law.

It gets worse.

The day after Hammonds's arrest, Miami Beach police printed a flyer with mug shots of Hammonds, Bredwell, and a friend, Christian Torres. Headlined "FYI Officer Safety," it warned that the trio "were seen filming the Miami Beach Police Department" and were "extremely hostile" and "looking for a confrontation." Anyone who spotted them "should use extreme caution."

"They make us sound like terrorists for filming a protest," Hammonds complains.

Sanchez, the Miami Beach Police Department spokesman, says the trio acted suspiciously. "[They] were claiming they were filming in part for a documentary, [but] they had no credentials," Sanchez writes in an email statement. "Post 9/11, and in keeping with homeland security, the filming of any possible location which could be considered a target… arouses suspicion."

Either way, the flyer was effective, the friends believe. In the months that followed, the three — along with a fourth member of their crew, Klemote McClean — were pulled over and detained more than a dozen times.

The group filmed almost all of the confrontations. Though their cameras were repeatedly seized, they've gotten all equipment back save for one camera, which the Miami Beach police claim to have no record of.

It goes on like that, including incidents where the men were arrested for filming police from their own property. There are also more quotes from police spokesmen claiming that by merely making video recordings, the four were trying to "incite" police. They've been arrested multiple times on vague, catch-all charges like resisting arrest or obstruction. The charges are always dropped.

I hope they consider filing a lawsuit. Florida is an all-party consent state, but the law does include the provision that the non-consenting party have an expectation of privacy. This is brazen, systematic abuse. The four are now selling a DVD of their encounters, titled Man vs. Pig. I wish they had picked a less inflammatory title. But if this article is accurate, you can hardly blame them for being angry.