A police officer was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Feb. 26 telling a criminal defense lawyer not to film a traffic stop because of a new state law, which does not exist (video below).
The attorney, Jesse Bright, began filming after police had his passenger step out of the car to be searched, but Wilmington Police Sgt. Kenneth Becker told Bright to stop recording and not to record him, reports WECT.
"I explained that I was just an Uber driver and that my passenger, I don’t even know him," Bright told WWAY.
Bright said the officer told him he had transported the passenger to a drug house.
"They questioned me and what I was doing there," Bright added. "Didn’t seem to believe I was an Uber driver."
In Bright's video, Becker tells him: "Be careful because there is a new law. Turn it off or I’ll take you to jail."
Bright asks Becker to cite the law, and Becker responds by telling Bright to get out of his car.
A New Hanover County Sheriff's deputy, who was present, agreed that there was such a law, according to WECT.
"What are you arresting me for?" Bright asks. "I’m sitting here in my car. I’m just recording in case anything happens. I’m surrounded by five police officers."
Becker calls Bright a "jerk," and Bright replies: "I’m scared right now. I’m not being a jerk. I’m recording in case anything happens."
Becker tells Bright: "You better hope we don’t find something in your car."
Bright tells Becker that he cannot search his car, but Becker calls over a K-9 unit to search the car.
"Bring the K-9s," Bright says. "I don’t care, man. I know my rights."
"I hope so," Becker replies. "I know what the law is."
"I know the law," Bright fires back. "I’m an attorney, so I would hope I know what the law is."
Bright later told WECT: "They should know -- I'm sure they do know -- that it's legal to record police."
Linda Thompson with the Wilmington Police Department said that an internal affairs investigation into the incident was under way.
Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous issued a statement on March 8 in response to the video:
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.
Lt. Jerry Brewer of the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office declined to identify the deputy who confirmed the false information, and said the deputy did not violate anything.
New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon viewed the video, and said the officers were incorrect to say that it was illegal to film the encounter. The deputy has reportedly been counseled.
Bright said this type of incident could be happening to others: "I think it probably is systemic, it's probably something that at least the lower officers do as a habit, telling people to turn the video, just in case something happens, they have all the copies of the video."
"I knew that he was just trying to coerce me to not film him anymore," Bright told WWAY. "I didn’t want to see anyone get fired or anything come of this I really just want people to understand their rights.”
WWAY news report