A police officer from North Carolina was demoted for his actions during a February traffic stop, when he told an Uber driver taking a video that recording a police officer was illegal. The Uber driver, who was also an attorney, released the video online shortly after.
Sgt. Kenneth Becker of Wilmington, North Carolina, was demoted March 29, reports The Associated Press. The demotion reduces Becker's pay by $1.38 an hour and reduces his rank to corporal. Becker is a 17-year veteran of his department.
On Feb. 26, Becker pulled Uber driver Jesse Bright over under the suspicion that he had delivered a passenger to a drug house under surveillance, reports The Washington Post. Before engaging with Becker and a passenger who was still in the car, Bright pulled out his phone and began recording.
Bright, who works full time as an attorney in Wilmington, and who drives with Uber to help pay off his student loans, was surprised that he was pulled over. When Bright began recording Becker, he was even more surprised to hear the officer tell him, "Be careful because there is a new law. Turn it off or I'll take you to jail."
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No such law exists in North Carolina. It is legal, and recommended, for any citizen to record any interaction with a police officer on duty.
When Bright responded that he knew the law and his rights, and that he was well within them, Becker began to get argumentative. Bright, who had committed no crime, stuck to his convictions and kept recording. That's when Becker escalated the situation.
Bright and his passenger were both ordered to step out of the car. The vehicle, Bright and his passenger were searched. The officers found nothing and had to release Bright and his passenger.
Bright said there was never any doubt in his mind that Becker was lying about a law that prohibits people from recording the police.
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"If a police officer gives you a lawful command and that command is disobeyed, they'll arrest you," Bright said. "The fact that I wasn't arrested and he didn't even try to arrest me is proof that he was being dishonest."
Shortly after the video was posted, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous made a statement confirming the legality of and encouraging the filming of law enforcement officers.
Uber also made a statement, saying: "We encourage all riders and drivers to follow the law."
Bright, a criminal defense attorney, told reporters his encounter should provide a lesson to everyone who watched the video.
"I think the video shows that the police are willing to lie in order to coerce people into doing what they want them to do. You just have to know your rights."