Police in Antioch, California, were recorded by several citizens' cell phones as they reportedly beat and tased a mentally ill homeless man last Tuesday.
Witnesses told ABC7 News that the homeless man was handcuffed while police tased and beat him with a baton. At one point, a police dog was reportedly turned loose on the man. The witnesses would not go on-camera because they feared being beat or arrested by the police (video below).
Antioch police reportedly seized the cell phones containing video of the incident, but some of the video (below) made it to the web.
ABC7 News reported, "This brings up some interesting questions about the rights of people and their video versus the rights of the police and whether or not they can take away that video."
However, those "interesting questions" have actually been decided repeatedly in the courts for years. Ruling after ruling has found that citizens have First Amendment right to film police officers in a public space as long they do not interfere with their work, reported RT.com and The Huffington Post.
Police do have the right to seize your camera or cell phone under “exigent circumstances,” which means they have reason to think a witness will destroy the video (potential evidence), notes PhotographyIsNotaCrime.com.
But one witness told ABC7 News that police wanted to destroy the evidence, "They were being kind of controlling, like demanding, 'erase your phone' and they were trying to take people's phones away."
In a statement to ABC7 News, the Antioch Police Department said, "If a person is not willing to turn it over voluntarily, an officer can sometimes seize the device containing the video. The police would have to get a search warrant to retrieve the video from the device."
But there was no mention as to why police officers would want to erase the video.
The homeless man, who identifies himself as "Gary," recently told KTVU, "My concerns and things are not as high value to other people in the world. I'd like to be respected in that same nature. Perhaps become the president one day."
Gary's mother says that her son is a diagnosed schizophrenic. She, like many witnesses, was scared to give her real name because of possible police retaliation, but did say, "I just want people to know how brutal the police are and how wrong what they did to my son."
"From what I've gotten so far, the subject, he was handcuffed," ex-cop and private investigator Ralph Hernandez told KTVU. "Once the person is handcuffed, you can't just gang up on the guy, beat him with your fists, kick him, hit him with your batons and also sick the dog on you."
One police officer claimed that Gary tried to grab a cop's gun, but Hernandez says, "This is an excuse that is always used on a regular basis by law enforcement."