Austin Police Grab Man's Cellphone, Then Pepper-Spray Him

Another bystander punished for filming police.


Video shows Austin Police snatching phone and pepper-spraying bystander
iijeriichoii / YouTube

The Austin Police Department (APD) is "conducting a review" after a video surfaced showing a mounted officer snatching a man's phone and throwing it on the ground while another officer pepper-sprays him.

The Twitter user, who uploaded the video early Sunday morning, started recording because he saw "someone get tackled by a single police officer," according to the video's description on YouTube. Other officers, including some on horseback, try to separate the rowdy crowd from officers who appear to be making an arrest. Several bystanders can be seen in the video with cellphones in their outstretched arms recording the altercation.

The video shows one of the horseback officers grabbing the phone out of a bystander's hand. The man reaches up as if to ask for his phone back, the officer on horseback rides forward, and a cop on foot immediately pepper-sprays the man.

Contacted by email, the APD says the department is "aware of this incident and is conducting a review to determine if the officers' conduct is compliant with our policy." 

In a phone interview with KXAN News, the Twitter user who uploaded the video (who asked to be identified as "Tucker") explained his reasoning for filming the encounter:

I might as well record it, because there's only two options: either nothing happens or something happens, and either way, it's no harm, no foul.

There's only good that can be gained from having more information readily available.

Tucker highlighted that filming police interactions is beneficial for all involved:

The police officers, for their own protection, so they feel safe in case the crowd does encroach upon their territory or their work, as well as in light of recent events in Baltimore and Ferguson, protecting the citizen who may just be there.

As Reason's Jacob Sullum notes:

There is no legal basis for such interference with camera-carrying bystanders. The right to record police has been explicitly upheld by at least four federal appeals courts—in the 1st7th9th, and 11th circuits—and implicitly recognized by others.

Federal judges outside of those four circuits have ruled that the right to record flows logically from the First Amendment right to gather information and that it applies equally to everyone, not just credentialed journalists. Big-city police chiefs take it for granted that "members of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions," as a 2014 NYPD memo put it, and that "a bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media," as Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier informed her officers in 2012.

On thing that's worth noting: Tucker only starts recording after the action starts. Reason's Ronald Bailey touched on this problem back in 2013.

People typically start recording only after an encounter turns aggressive, so the context of what is happening is lost.

He's right. If police were to wear body cameras, we might get a more complete picture of how these incidents start, and whom to hold responsible.

Watch the video here:

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  1. Kinda gotta expect this from the police… and don’t give them the opportunity to grab your shit!

  2. No comments? Are we scared of prosecution?

    1. You know what I hope happens to that cop? I hope he is sued under section 1983, title 42 of the United States Code.

    2. I would like to send that cop a big basket of flowers and nominate him for Outstanding Cop of the Year.

    3. No comments? Are we scared of prosecution?


    4. If this were an actual aggression done by the police officer:

      Then I hope that repayment is exacted from him in proportion to the aggression he did in order to benefit the harmed party. We like to call this “justice” where I come from.

      1. You know what? Instead of “threatening” anyone, I’ll let God speak instead (he says it better).

        “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity.”
        “learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
        “Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.”
        “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.'”
        “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live…”
        “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.'”
        “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”
        “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.”
        “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

        And perhaps the most scary for some unjust folks:
        “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

  3. Not a race thing this time?! Wow!

    1. He is probably a white-hispanic. Or Samoan. Or something.

      1. Probably Inuit.

      2. Not Samoan; head ain’t big enough

    2. Robby wasn’t the one posting. He seems to be the most consistently race baiting race baiter on the Reason staff.

      1. He’s not race baiting. He’s just making sure that we know he’s not racist, and wants to signal that he too is aware of his privilege. Repeatedly.

  4. This and the Freddy Gray arrest can lead to only one conclusion: ban cops in shorts.

  5. He’s right. If police were to wear body cameras, we might get a more complete picture of how these incidents start, and who to hold responsible.

    But we already know who gets held responsible. Hint: it’s not the one with the badge.

  6. Why the long face?

    1. What does this have to do with John Kerry?

      1. Come on. The man’s recovering. Have some decorum.

        Unless he was wounded in a hunting accident and you want to accuse the vice president of attempted murder, then by all means, fire away.

        1. Punny.

  7. …showing a mounted officer snatching a man’s phone and throwing it on the ground while another officer pepper-sprays him.

    Uh, if they had pepper sprayed him before breaking his phone he might have gotten them on camera pepper spraying him. Use your head, Denning.

    1. Of course! How astute!

  8. You know, it’s incidents like these that bring up a classic quote from Thomas Jefferson:

    The tree of subpoena must be refreshed from time to time with the subpoena of subpoena and subpoena.

    Just observing,

    D.M. Subpoena

  9. Contacted by email, the APD says the department is “aware of this incident and is conducting a review to determine if the officers’ conduct is compliant with our policy.”

    “Yeah, let me just look through the policy manual to see if theft, destruction of property, destruction of evidence and assault with caustic chemicals are in here…” [leafing through book, looking for relevant passages]

    1. FoE, stay on topic, we’re currently avoiding talking about something else.

  10. When cops face no consequences for breaking the law, then they’re going to ignore it.

  11. I saw that on the news this weekend, alongside the video of the pool party incident and another of a cop repeatedly kicking a homeless man (I think?) on the ground as they prepared to cuff him.

    Seeing all three stories together, on national news, was a strong reminder of how valuable cell phone video is and how much it’s changing the perspective on police. I’m sure there are people out there who think this is all a recent trend, but come on: much of this abuse has always happened, it just didn’t receive much press until these incidents could be recorded and distributed. Ten years ago, if a teenage girl was thrown to the ground by a cop, it would only be talked about amongst the family and the immediate community. A protestor or just innocent bystander pepper sprayed by a cop? That might make waves in that protestor’s circles/bystander’s family, and that’s it.

    And homeless guys beat to death or shot by the police? Ffuggedaboutit.

    1. This story is also a good reminder: best to use live streaming services (like Bambuser) in situations like these… ’cause the video’s no good if it’s stuck on a broken phone. These services might be one of the greatest innovations in regard to this issue.

    2. You are exactly right. Before ubiquitous cameras, we got one story from the cops and one story from a “suspect.” Guess who was given the benefit of the doubt? I’ll never forget the first story of photo evidence in my neck of the woods — it was after sony cams but I’d say about 20 years ago: some black guy was accused of hitting a Daytona Beach cop’s horse. A few days after he was charged, video came to light to show the cops were lying.

      1. We still only get two stories– one story from the cops, and one story from multiple video sources and dozens of eye-witnesses.

        And the cops still get acquitted.

  12. What are the actual statistics? Off the top of my head, when I think of cops acting badly I think of blue cities: NYC, Chicago, Austin.

    1. The bluer a place is, the more laws there will be to enforce, so the cops will have more opportunity to act badly.

      1. There’s also a correlation, I believe between Deep Blue single-party rule and unhinged pubsec unions.

    2. Not really fair. What urban centers aren’t “blue cities”? Even Salt Lake City is pretty Democratic.

    3. Don’t forget Baltimore and Ferguson.

  13. I think it’s a good thing that awareness of police misconduct is on a sharp rise. It’s part of a general lack of accountability in government officials in general, but the combination of not-very-restricted government, virtually unchecked discretion to use force, and public union status seems to have made them even worse.

  14. OT: Any interest in a Reasonoid meetup in the New England area over the next month or so? Kick off the summer with some cold beers and people actually agreeing with you when you say “fuck the government” at a cookout?

    I’m in NH about 45 minutes north of Boston. I think sarcasmic, Heroic Mulatto, and a few others aren’t too far. Email address is in my handle.

    1. I would love to, but damn that’s a long drive from the L/A area.

      1. Ah. I thought I remembered you making Howie Carr and Maine references. What the hell did you do to get banished to that smog-ridden Californian cesspool?

        1. Not that L/A.

          1. Oh, yes, that’s a much nicer area. Still, a couple hours’ drive isn’t a terrible tradeoff for free beer and burgers. There are a few of us who are rather curious to meet you in the flesh. At the very least, shoot me an email, and I’ll keep you in the loop.

    2. That sounds awesome, that’s a 10 hour drive for me though. I live next to D.C. So, often times, when I say “fuck the government”, I’m basically saying “fuck you” to several people standing near me.

      But seriously, fuck them.

      1. Thanks. I’ve been toying with the idea for awhile, but I know how reclusive some of the commentariat are, so I didn’t know how it’d be received. Then I figured, fuck it, I’m not going to be around for awhile come the end of July, might as well toss it out there and see if there’s interest. This is a good group, and it’d be nice to actually meet some of you whose comments get me through the workday.

        Fuck them, indeed.

        1. I wonder if any buses go up to N.H. from northern Virginia?

    3. Mr. (????)?? ???,

      Sounds like a good time; however, need I remind you that your suggested meetup is happening on a grander scale at the end of the month in NH? Porcfest? The festivities are held in a much more picturesque area than Boston or any other New England city…

      1. Very astute observation, good sir. However, I don’t think my schedule will allow me to make it to Porcfest this year, and this would be cheaper and more flexible. Plus, I suspect that most Porcfest attendees don’t spend as much time together as our little group does throughout the year, so they really won’t understand why we’re all afraid of “Warty’s basement”.

    4. We don’t do this stuff in Chicago. Nikki is afraid of being groped, Swiss hates Jews, Irish is too drunk to ever respond…

      1. I don’t hate Jews…I hate everybody.

        1. So Jews aren’t anybody. See? Proved my point.

          1. Swiss, stop othering the Jews!

  15. There is no legal basis for such interference with camera-carrying bystanders. The right to record police has been explicitly upheld by at least four federal appeals courts?in the 1st, 7th, 9th, and 11th circuits?and implicitly recognized by others.

    That doesn’t settle the question of police policy, though.

    1. If police policy says it’s OK for cops to commit illegal acts, then it’s OK. Policy trumps the law.

      1. Exactly. They were only following orders.

        1. You know who else was only following orders?

          1. My radio controlled drone?

          2. Burger King?

          3. Nazis?

          4. Warty’s victims?

  16. In regards to the Austin PD reviewing their policy:

    Why don’t PDs have something for the officers akin to the military’s Uniform Military Code (UMC)?

    If a soldier violates a law or a citizen’s rights they face double jeopardy. Having law enforcement officers at a minimum face a single jeopardy would be a huge step forward.

    1. Don’t you know it’s a warzone out there?! Police are being targeted and slain in the streets! Things like ROEs and the UCMJ are for military, not our Heroes In Blue, because reasons.

  17. HELLO EVERYBODY! Actually I’ve just signed up to get into some of the sweet DOJ subpoenas.

  18. “People typically start recording only after an encounter turns aggressive, so the context of what is happening is lost.”

    This is true. But the only way we’re going to get all the police to wear body cameras is by continuing to record aggressive encounters until they have no choice but to do so for their own protection.

  19. If the cop actually did swipe the guy’s phone, then the cop started it and should get busted for theft or instigating this whole thing. I live in Austin and this probably happened on or around 6th Street, which gets real busy on Saturday nights. Cops are there all the time and lots of people are drunk, so who knows how this all got started.

  20. I have a caveat; if the person recording is TOO CLOSE to the police,that is “interfering”,and grounds for being detained.
    Note in the pic accompanying this article,there’s a large crowd all around the police,naturally they are going to get sensitive about people encroaching on them during their law enforcement. It’s a potential riot situation. And today,you have people trying to stab or shoot police.

    if you’re 10 feet or more away,that’s different.

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  23. No body cameras are necessary. These cops are riding horses around in circles in a crowded area. The mounted officer friggen reached out and grabbed the guy’s phone and the guy was just standing there in disbelief when another one sprayed him.

    Just saw the Police Chief on the local news complaining about how Americans have lost common sense. Yeah, and it starts with the police department!

    I’ve been in that area countless times. Yes, lots of people drinking, but this isn’t the projects where the police need to be ready for anything. This is a bunch of regular folks milling about. Lots of drunks for sure, but it’s comical for the police to feel threatened in this situation. They have ONE guy they are detaining about a mounted posse to protect themselves. Jeez, what a joke.

  24. The cops in Austin have to be careful whose kids they rough up. Some 40 years ago they raided a hippie party and busted half the statehouse issue. To this day they hardly ever shoot anyone and are careful to destroy evidence when they get a chance. There are still no libertarians in office, but the county LP fields about 40 candidates many of whom get up to a fifth of the votes.

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