Jesse Bright was driving an Uber customer in Wilmington, North Carolina last month when he was stopped by police. His passenger was ordered from the car and searched on suspicion of drug violations. Bright decided to turn on his camera and record whatever might happen next.
But the officers on the scene did not take kindly to being filmed, with one officer telling Bright, "Be careful because there is a new law. Turn it off or I'll take you to jail." Bright demanded to know what new law the officer was speaking of, but instead he was ordered out of the car.
Bright replied, "What are you arresting me for? I'm sitting here in my car. I'm just recording in case anything happens. I'm surrounded by five police officers." Bright also admitted to being scared, but the officer told him "you're being a jerk" and threatened to search his car. To that, Bright said plainly, "you're not searching my car" and informed the officers that in addition to driving an Uber, he was an attorney and well aware of the law and his rights.
Unfortunately, the officers searched Bright's car and his person anyway, finding nothing and eventually letting both him and his passenger go on their way. But Bright tells WECT his constitutional rights were violated, which appears to be confirmed by statements from senior officers.
A spokesman with the Wilmington PD confirmed to WECT that no "new law" prohibiting the recording of police in public exists, and that the department does not instruct its officers to tell citizens that it is illegal to record them.
Wilmington's Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said in a statement (per WECT):
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.
Because a deputy with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Department was also involved in the traffic stop, the Sheriff's office also released a statement reiterating the legality of recording police officers in public.
Sheriff [Ed] McMahon has viewed the Uber driver's video and believes it is clear that officers were incorrect in stating that it was illegal to record the encounter. Not only does the Sheriff agree that it is legal to record encounters, he invites citizens to do so. As a result, the Deputy involved has been counseled.
Additionally, in keeping with Sheriff McMahon's practice of openness and transparency with the citizens that we serve, he has instructed his Staff to ensure that each Deputy has been provided with information about the citizen's right to record encounters with law enforcement officers.
Watch video of Bright's unconstitutional stop below: