A Compton, California, jury recently acquitted David Gipson, a 19-year-old charged with illegal gun possession, after cell-phone video cast doubt on the official version of his arrest at a South L.A. party last May:
At a preliminary hearing…[Los Angeles County Sheriff's] Deputy Levi Belville testified that he saw Gipson in the side yard run and toss a loaded revolver onto the roof of a detached garage. The deputy said he ordered Gipson to stop and that the suspect walked back to Belville, who then detained him….
The footage [from another party guest's phone] did not show Gipson running, tossing a gun or walking back to the deputies to be detained. Instead, the grainy video showed deputies arriving and walking past Gipson, who was standing against a wall of the house near the rear of the yard. One of the deputies, Raul Ibarra, returned to Gipson and escorted him to the back of the yard….
Belville later said the video must have been edited, but an expert consulted by the district attorney's office determined that it had not been.
These and other inconsistencies led the jurors to conclude that the sheriff's deputies were lying. "These were not minor inconsistencies," one juror told the Los Angeles Times. "These were outright fabrications….It'll be an injustice…if someone isn't held accountable." Full accountability seems unlikely, since Belville's superiors are ascribing the inaccurate statements to honest errors. Still, the case illustrates the power of cheap and highly portable recording technology to prevent police from inventing an alternative reality. And as defenders of government surveillance like to say about private citizens who don't like being watched, if police have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.
That seems to be the attitude of Matthew J. Lyons, an Oceanside, California, police officer whose calm, polite response to a man wielding a cell phone (while openly carrying a gun, no less) I highlighted in June. Last week I discussed the legal challenge to an Illinois statute that makes it a felony to record police in public without their permission. For more on camera-shy cops, see Radley Balko's January cover story in Reason and Reason.tv's May treatment of the subject:
[Thanks to Matt Motherway for the tip.]