Las Vegas, USA – May 27, 2014: emmc, LLC, a Las Vegas based entertainment media management company, today announces the intent of Las Vegas freelance journalist Deborah Robinson to file suit against the Memphis Police Department for several illegal actions, including First Amendment rights violations.The actions and violations occurred Monday, May 12, 2014 as officers prevented Robinson from videotaping an arrest at the MATA North Terminal. On four (4) different occasions, three (3) Memphis Police Officers ordered Robinson to stop recording their activities and threatened her with arrest and confiscation of her media if she did not comply with their orders. A lieutenant physically assaulted her and that same lieutenant and a security guard physically detained her.In doing so, they not only violated Robinson’s First Amendment rights, but they also violated the Memphis Police Department’s official policy (released by Director Armstrong on December 13, 2013) instructing officers not to interfere with civilians First Amendment rights to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD officers while they are performing their duties in public spaces.
According to the Memphis Police Department’s Policy & Procedures on public recordings:
As long as the photographing or recording takes place in a setting at which the individual has a legal right to be present and does not interfere with a member’s safety, members shall not inform or instruct people that photographing or recording of police officers, police activity or individuals who are the subject of police action (such as a Terry stop or arrest) is not allowed, requires a permit, or requires the member’s consent. Additionally, members shall not:
- Order that person to cease such activity;
- Demand that person’s identification;
- Demand that the person state a reason why he or she is taking photographs or recording;
- Detain that person;
- Intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices by direct physical means (i.e. place hand over recording device); or
- In any way threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage an individual from recording members’ enforcement activities.
NOTE: Members may ask questions during the course of a contact , but members are reminded that there is no justification for ordering a person to stop or requiring that they answer unless the member reasonably suspects that a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit any crime.
“My experience was a classic, case-book study of what should not be done concerning citizen and journalist’s First Amendment rights,” says Robinson. “After researching the Memphis Police Department and seeing its history of violating the First Amendment rights of its citizens who may not have the means, resources or courage to stand up for their rights, I decided to file an official internal affairs complaint.”
On May 13, 2014, Robinson met with detectives in the Memphis Police Department’s Internal Affairs Department and filed the following official complaint.
INTERNAL AFFAIRS REPORT:
On Monday morning, May 12, 2014 at 7:36am, I arrived in Memphis on the Megabus (from Little Rock) at the MATA Station North Terminal. Upon entering the parking lot to wait for my ride, I noticed police officers detaining two men. I retrieved my camera from my bag and began recording the scene from a distance.
A male officer (I did not get his name, but he is identified in the photo below) immediately came over to me and ordered me to put my camera down. I informed him that I am a journalist, that I had a right to record, that I was not interfering with their operation, and that I did not have to put my camera down. He spoke with someone on the walkie-talkie and came back to me and asked for my credentials. I told him that I would show him my credentials, but he did not have to see my credentials because I could be a citizen with the same rights to record. He turned and walked away.
At the same time, a female officer (I did not get her name, but she is identified in the photo below) approached me and asked to see my credentials. She said she was asking because there were undercover officers on the scene. I told her I understood and opened my bag to find my credentials. Her insistence to see my credentials gave me pause and I told her that legally I did not have to show them to her and I could record as a regular citizen. She walked away and spoke with someone on the walkie-talkie. She came back and said that I needed to show her my credentials or her lieutenant said they would have to hold me until they got in touch with their Public Information Officer. I told her that she had no right to see my credentials, but I would show them to her and I told her that I was recording her. I continued to tell her she had no right to ask me for my credentials. She continued to say, “Let me see them.” I told her I was getting them, but I first put my camera on my shoulder strap to continue recording while I used both hands to find my credentials. She stood close to me with her hand at her firearm.
I gave her my credentials and she asked to see my identification to see that I was the same person on the credentials. I said, “Yes you can,” and gave her my driver’s license. Someone on the walkie-talkie asked her if she has seen my credentials. She gave them my name and stated one of the companies I work for. The male on the walkie-talkie said, “If she’s truly with the press, how far is she from you guys doing your job?” The female officer looked at the distance I was standing from their operation and told him something I could not hear. He said something to the effect of, “That’s good.” The female officer said OK to the male on the walkie-talkie, handed me back my credentials and driver’s license, said, “Thank you, that’s all we needed, continue on.” As she was walking away, she told me to stay away from the operation. I told her I knew my distance and I continued recording.
While the female officer was looking at my credentials and ID, a blue SUV pulled up to block my view of the scene. I moved across the parking lot, further away from the scene, and continued recording. After they put the two men in squad cars, I turned my camera off and put it back in my bag.
A couple of minutes later, the female officer approached me again and told me that if I took any more video, she would confiscate my camera and media and arrest me. She said I had to be on official assignment and I did not have a right to be there. I told her that I paid to ride the bus and that’s where they put us out. I told her again that I had a right to record, I was not interfering in their police business, and that I was going to record her telling me not to record any more. At that time, I reached for my camera. She stood very close to my face and told me if I touched the camera one more time she was going to confiscate my camera and arrest me. I again told her she had no reason to do that and I could record and I reached for my camera again. She came closer to me and told me in no uncertain terms that if I even touched the camera she was going to arrest me. I did not touch my camera. She threatened again to arrest me if I touched my camera and she walked away.
All of the officer’s cars left the scene.
I walked over to a bench sat down. A male officer, Lt. Frank Winston, walked up to me and asked me if I was the person shooting video. I told him yes. He said, “Can I talk to you over here, please?” I gathered my bags and moved away from the others to where he was standing. Due to Lt. Winston’s demeanor, I called a co-worker on my cell phone and asked him to record the conversation I was about to have with the officer. I told Lt. Winston that I was recording the encounter. He said, “Good. I’m recording too.”
Lt. Winston, in an intimidating tone, asked me who I was, if I was a citizen of the state of Tennessee, what I was going to use the video for, and several other questions. I told him the other officer had seen my press credentials and ID and his questions were not relevant to my right to shoot the video. He yelled at me that I would answer his questions or he would arrest me. I asked him for what reason he would arrest me and he did not answer. I asked him if I was being detained. He did not answer. I told him that if I was not being detained, then I was going to walk away. He told me I could not leave. I turned to walk away and he grabbed my arm, pulled me back to him and held me in place. I did not fight or pull my arm away, but I asked him to release me. I continued to ask him to release me and if I was being detained and for what. He told me it didn’t matter what I was being detained for. I told him that he needed to release my arm so that I could leave if I was not being detained. He pulled on my arm to let me know I was not going anywhere. I continued to ask him if I was being detained. He said yes. I asked him why. He said it didn’t matter, just that I was being detained and I could not leave.
There were several officers on the scene, including the female officer from earlier. Another officer (I believe it was an officer or security guard from the terminal) came up behind me and grabbed my backpack to hold me in place. At this time, both officers were holding me – one on my left arm, the other held my backpack, which was on my back. I continued to ask them both to release me and I continued to ask them why I was being detained.
Lt. Winston released my arm and walked a couple of steps away to speak to someone on his cell phone. He told the person on the phone that he didn’t know who I was and that I was on the same bus they had made the arrests from. I asked him if he was trying to connect me to a drug bust. He did not answer, but told the person on the phone again that I was on the same bus as the operation they made the arrests from. He went on to say, “She is being a butt-hole. They flash their credentials and think they can do anything. She thinks she’s smart and know the law.”
Lt. Winston reached the cell phone towards me for me to speak to someone. I told him I had no reason to speak to anyone. He pushed the phone closer to my face and told me that I better take the phone and speak to the person. I said no. He put the phone even closer in my face and told me I better take it and talk to the person. I took the phone and asked who I was speaking with. She identified herself as Sgt. Macon Moore. She asked me my name, who I was working for and several other questions. I told her my name and asked her if I was being detained. She said no, I was not being detained. She asked me what was happening there. I told her that Lt. Winston and the other officer were both physically holding my arm and backpack and refusing to let me go. I told her that Lt. Winston said he was detaining me. I told her that there was no need for me to answer her questions and I handed the phone back to Lt. Winston. Lt. Winston was listening to the person on the phone. The officer behind me holding my backpack asked if they had everything under control. The female officer nodded to him that they had it under control, so he released my backpack. I asked Lt. Winston and the female officer again if I was being detained. Neither of them answered me, so I walked away. Both Lt. Winston and the female officer followed me. I turned and walked the other direction and they continued to follow me.
My ride came and I left the terminal.
This has been and emotionally and physically traumatizing event. I was proudly documenting a situation that made me feel safe and secure and I wanted to share with the public Memphis officers doing public good to prevent illegal activity in the national bus transit system. But, what started as a good faith journalistic effort to record officers performing their duties and keeping the transportation system safe and clear of drug trafficking, became a personal traumatic experience and a litany of torturous authoritative abuses played out in public view.
It is clear and I have video to prove that the officers involved in the incident above not only denied me my First Amendment rights, they prevented me from performing my journalistic duties, I was accosted, two officers assaulted me, I was physically handled without cause and prevented from leaving the premises, I was detained for no reason, they harassed me by approaching me twice after I had put up my camera, they attempted to intimidate me with the authority of their position and by invading my personal space, they abused their authority by posturing and placing their hands near their firearms while threatening to arrest me, they defamed my character by knowingly and falsely connecting me to a drug bust in an attempt to find a reason to arrest me, they consciously attempted to provoke me in an effort to cause me to react and threatening to charge me with disorderly conduct.
END INTERNAL AFFAIRS REPORT
Robinson has video to show the violations of her First Amendment rights. DOWNLOAD A CLIP OF THE VIDEO HERE. In the clip, you will see officers order Robinson to cease recording, demand her credentials and ID, threaten to detain her if she did not provide her credentials and obstruct her view. The video clip linked above is only a sample of the video Robinson was able to record before being prevented from even touching her camera.
“Because the officers inadvertently accomplished their objectives of denying me my legal right to record their activity, it is unfortunate that I am persuaded that seeking a legal remedy is the only recourse that could possibly assure that the Memphis Police Department does not continue to operate in a culture of intimidation at it relates to journalists and citizens First Amendment rights,” says Robinson.