Police Officer on Leave After Pointing Gun at Videographer: Two Sides of the Story

A video recently surfaced on YouTube showing a police officer pulling and pointing his gun at a man filming his activity. As a photographer, it would be easy to side with the cameraman but let’s try to see what happened and check both sides of the story.

What Happened in the Video?

The eight minute video is seen from the man camera presumably installed on the videographer’s chest, but he also carries a GoPro mounted on some handle or mini-steadycam. The videographer approaches a cop standing next to his police car and films him with the GoPro steadycam. The cop asks several times, “What are you filming for sir?” but the videographer doesn’t respond. Eventually, the cop politely asks the videographer to “put it down” (the steadycam) because he “doesn’t know what that is.” The videographer finally acknowledges the officer by saying “it’s a camera, you know what that is.” At this point, things escalate very quickly, and as the cop puts his hand on his weapon, the videographer’s voice becomes more aggressive. Eventually, the cop grabs his gun (pointing down) and the man shouts at the police officer. Finally, the cop points the gun at the man and keeps asking him to put “this thing down” which only reinforces the fury of the videographer. A few seconds later, two more officers show up, and the first cop lowers his gun. The next six minutes of the video is an uninterrupted flow of shouting and miscommunication between the officers and the man who calls the first cop a “tyrant” and other colorful names (pu**y, son of a b****).

In the post 911 context, police forces are trained to be suspicious of anything. Some officers can be too aggressive. Credit: Foundry Co / CC0 Creative Commons

A Provoking Videographer or an Unprofessional Police Officer?

I must admit that I feel very uneasy watching this video. It seems that the cop didn’t have to point his weapon at the videographer but, on the other hand, the man was not very cooperative by not answering the officer’s question in the first place. At no point was the police officer disrespectful. Perhaps he felt uncomfortable with the shape of the steadycam, he repeatedly said: “I don’t know what this is.” Faced with an uncooperative person standing a few feet away from him he may have felt threatened. It may sound stupid, but in a country full of firearms, and with an average of one cop shot to death per week, cops can be on edge. On the other side, the man was merely filming police activity and started shouting and calling names only after the cop grabbed his weapon. According to the local news report, the videographer is the founder of California Citizens Watch, a group that audits government entities. The YouTube account bears the same name. A quick look at his videos shows other “cop watch” films conducted by the same man. At this point, everything is up to interpretation. Pro-cop groups will say that this man was confronting an officer, looking to trigger an incident by not being cooperative. Pro-civil rights groups will argue that cop abuses are common in this country and the law gives citizens in some states the right to document police activity. California is one of them thanks to the Penal Code Section 148(g).

The fact that a person takes a photograph or makes an audio or video recording of a public officer or peace officer, while the officer is in a public place or the person taking the picture or making the recording is in a place he or she has the right to be, does not constitute, in and of itself, a violation of subdivision (a), nor does it constitute reasonable suspicion to detain the person or probable cause to arrest the person.

The videographer didn't have to comply with the officer’s request to put is camera down, and he only became upset and angry after the cop pointed his gun at him, which is understandable. There is some truth on both sides of the story. Cops feel vulnerable while on duty. It might be a long shot, but there have been several cases of criminals and terrorists filming their actions while committing homicides. Conversely, cop watch activists are necessary to raise awareness and prevent law enforcement abuses by restoring some balance of power. Far too many times in this country, cops walked away free of charge after shooting innocent people or photographers for absolutely no reasons.

As a landscape and urban photographer, I had many encounters with law enforcement personnel over the years, and being cooperative and friendly goes a long way. Sure, some of them were rude at first, but there is no need to escalate the issue. Plus, keep in mind that in the absence of a recording, it will be your word against the officer and the outcome may not be favorable for you. Like photographers, cops are people with good and bad days. We’ve all witnessed production assistants being poorly treated by photographers on set for no reasons, but angry artist don’t usually carry a gun. Attitude is important. In case of contact with the cops, it’s possible to be cooperative and polite without being submissive. State your right but follow the officer’s instructions, be calm and courteous.

Conclusion

Being a police officer is not easy but having the power to legally kill people during your job comes with extra-responsibility. Bad temper and poor judgment can cost lives, which is not acceptable. Too many times in the past, law enforcement agents got away with shooting people for dubious reasons. Lawmakers gave citizens the right and legal protection to document police activity in order create a checks and balances system and avoid abuses. Watching the video, it seems that the officer crossed the line by pointing the gun at a man that was not constituting an immediate threat despite what some may describe as an “annoying behavior.” But a YouTube video does not constitute an absolute proof as we don’t know the full extent of the story and I’m not a judge. Hopefully, the Justice and Internal Affairs department will be able to sort this out and take this officer out of the streets if necessary. For now, let’s remain calm without fueling the internet hysteria.

In any case, if an angry police officer confronts you during your work as a photographer, do not resist, stay calm and comply with the officer’s instructions — even if he is wrong. There will be plenty of time later on to contest the policeman’s actions. Resisting will only make your situation worse and could justify abusive behaviors afterward.

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85 Comments

Ethan Davis's picture

I can definitely see both your points of view, I think the video suggests that he ( videographer ) did nothing wrong because he didn't show the way he was holding the go pro, making us think he was talking about the video we were seeing. Still, I find the officer to be in the wrong never less of frequency of officers shot. They should be informed about what constitutes as a gun and if they are confused about what it is, call for backup instead of threatening. I also find it weird why he wouldn't says his ID, suggests some sort of guilt that he knew he was abusing his power. Overall though I think officers within the US are faced with great violence as I'm from the UK, but the shear amount of reports of shots being fired by officers for mistaking things for a weapon is awful.

Thanks for bringing this video to people's attention!

Sad state of affairs for our society - on both sides. We have a long way to go to earn back civil respect.

Reggie Hughey's picture

“Respect” is EARNED, not given!

Agreed.... that is what I wrote.

This so-called group makes it a point to aggravate police officers...they try to make the officers go off then portray the officers as aggressive.... There are more anti-police and governmental groups doing the same thing..

The bad part it gives legit photographers a bad name and reputation....

When I do events and there are officers I always talk joke with them mostly I used to be a first responder of 30 years.... The other reason is if I show up at a scene and one of those officers are they know who and what I am

Oliver Kmia's picture

I must admit that I'm not a fan of this guy approach, as someone said in the comment below, the man could have introduced himself politely and stating what he was doing under PC-148g.

But this type of "cop watch" activity is somehow necessary to raise awareness about police abuse which is something real in USA. Check and balance of power is necessary but I just think that there is a way to do it. Attitude is important. But that's just my 2 cents.

This case is very interesting because I can see potential issues on both sides. Eventually, I think that the videographer attitude toward the end of the video with all his shouting and insults is going to harm his position in this case.

David Love's picture

Hopefully he gets fined for harassment. The officer asked him 3 times what he was doing and he was trying to piss the cop off the moment he walked up. If he had been polite nobody would care about the video.

The propensity in this country for rage-based police violence and unnecessary shooting deaths is very heartbreaking and disturbing. It's a social problem that should occupy our greatest attention in an effort to get to the root sociological and psychological causes.

But in this case, I have to say this camera guy, whoever he is, is the obvious culprit. He intentionally and unnecessarily escalated what could and should have been a rational and non-confrontational exchange. My sense is the guy went into the situation looking for trouble, and was even committed to be the cause of the conflict. Hell, At one point, the idiot is goading the officer into shooting him. I have no patience for this kind of stupidity. This videographer taints the authentic efforts of legitimate social activism. He's a part of the problem, not the solution.

Several things wrong here. First, admittedly, the videographer was pretty defensive and vulgar as things went on, but then he had a gun pointed at him by a sworn law officer while he was not doing anything illegal. And there are documented cases of officers making false, illegal claims to prevent lawful filming of their activities. The officer should never have pulled his weapon.

Oliver Kmia's picture

In the defense of the videographer, he only started to shout and be vulgar AFTER the cop started handling his weapon.

I've only had a gun pointed at me once. When it happened I was very, very polite. The photographer's attitude baffles me.

user-186898's picture

The "photographer"/instigator is intentionally trying to provoke the cop to make the video more dramatic. That's what people like this do. They're not photographers, they're instigators who provoke the police so they can get more YouTube views.

Mac Hayes's picture

I consider the photographer failing to respond to the policeman's first question as a hostile act, putting the policeman on edge and interfering with what he was there for. More information reveals that the photographer was in fact hostile to policemen and just looking for excuses to put them in a bad light.

I have watched a lot of these videos and I have tried to understand the issues at large. I am somewhat on the fence as I see abusive, disrespectful behavior by some auditors but then again I see police officers that are not respecting the rights of citizens and deescalating situations as they are trained. Remember owning a camera gives no one the right to my personal information; including law enforcement. When I give an officer my information it is elective and with the understanding that they may use it against me whether I think I have committed a crime or not.

I am first to condemn auditors that call officers pigs or tyrants; there is no need for that. However, I can say that this officer was not using his training properly and placed the citizen in harms way. Remember that this officer did not witness a crime; he was investigating a scene for possible criminal activity. That warrants caution in the use of force.

The police officer does not have a obligation to place himself/herself in danger but they do have a responsibility to err not to place citizens in harm either. We can argue all day long if this auditor deserved this or not, but the bottom line is that the officer made the situation more life threatening than it had to be. Remember that the man did not commit a crime and announced that it was a camera. If an officer cannot judge these conditions and react cool and calm I question if this is the right job for him. By the way this is why I am not a officer, and I say thank you to those that serve.

Robert Nurse's picture

I'm just surprise this videographer (VG) isn't dead. I'm 57 years old and I can tell you with a certain level of surety that if that had been me, that camera would have been seen as something else and I'd have been shot! The VG, to my knowledge wasn't breaking any laws except for those of the street (and good sense). Society gives police officers near carte blanche to shoot first and ask questions later based on nothing more than their sense fear and self-preservation. The news is replete with examples of unarmed individuals getting shot by police while holding much more benign objects (keys, wallets, cellphones). Video guy needs to pay more attention to the news. He thought he was within his rights and immune from police violence. He was clearly right on the latter point. A lot of us would be in the morgue: within our rights or not.

This is foolishness that could have been easily avoided. The cameraman was looking for trouble and if he would have simply remained calm (like the officer did) and complied with the officer's request, he would still have had a video but it would have been nothing we're talking about today. The officer would have never removed his firearm if the videographer would have been reasonable. I can completely understand why the officer might have felt threatened if he didn't recognize the object in the man's hand and then the man acted aggressively toward him. Absolute foolishness.

I find it hard to believe that the cop didn't know what the camera was. It seems likely that he was looking for away to get off camera without admitting that was what he was asking for.

>> with an average of one cop shot to death per week,

Which is a bs statistic as an indicator of actual danger to anyone with a brain. There are something 900,000 law enforcement officers in the US! One a week, with that sort of total, equates to almost no danger. Being a police officer in the US simply isn't that dangerous:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/07/12/are-most-...

Oliver Kmia's picture

Yes, I checked the statistics, this isn't the most dangerous job but cop being shot is only one part of the story.
According to your WP article "In 2014 [...]There were 48,315 other officers who were victims of assaults while on duty" so 50k incidents out of 900k law enforcement officers if I follow your number is about 5% chance per year of being involved in an incident. Multiply that by a 20-30 years career in the police force, 5% of chance per year of being assaulted is not exactly the most peaceful job. Then of course we can contest the reality of the statistic, some of the reported incidents are probably complete BS, etc.

Anyway, I'm not trying to defend any side here, just to understand the background and point of view of each person.

The WP also has an interesting database reporting police shooting:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/police-shootings-2...

>> There were 48,315 other officers who were victims of assaults while on duty" so 50k incidents out of 900k law enforcement officers

And what does that have to do with someone possessing a GoPro? Are GoPro owners unusually violent? Is pointing a GoPro at someone typically a sign that you are about to assualt them? No.

Oliver Kmia's picture

As the story develops it's said that the officer identified the camera as "a cheap Xiaomi knock off purchased on Aliexpress that's filmed me in 720i"
Perhaps, that explains his rage.

Is the officer's last name Kardashian???

...And Oliver's wit and my lame response to it aside, surely if someone points a (possibly off-brand) GoPro at you then they are LESS of a threat than normal? Because people don't record evidence that could be used against them. If you're going to set the threat bar for pointing a deadly weapon at a member of the public that low, then police should threaten to shoot every civilian they meet.

You don't point a gun at someone because you annoyed with them. You point a gun at them because you have reason to believe that a deadly threat exists. That's point one.

Point two is that if you're a police officer, you have no right to try to intimidate people into not filming you.

...And I think that's all that needs to be said. (Other than confirming the brand of camera.)

As was mentioned by someone else earlier, some people will film their crimes. Not everyone is sane and/or rational, which is something that those of us who are have a hard time wrapping our minds around. IMO, this guy clearly had a purpose when he approached the cop. Additionally, it's a well-known fact that many criminals will return to the scene of the crime to observe. All of that adds up to the officer being justifiably cautious.
I'm not saying the officer was in the right, but I understand his frame of mind, at least a little.
Also, the guy filming is a despicable human being.

>> As was mentioned by someone else earlier, some people will film their crimes.

Yes, but this is Idiot Logic. Sometimes people will wear blue jeans and commit crimes. Or Packers hats. That doesn't mean that a person wearing a Packers hat is MORE likely to commit a crime, still less that the threat has reached a level that justifies drawing a firearm.

More idiotically still, you are now justifying threatening an unarmed civilian because although they are LESS likely to be a threat than a random person, that level still isn't zero...

>> Additionally, it's a well-known fact that many criminals will return to the scene of the crime to observe.

This wasn't the scene of a serial killing. Your movie fantasy criminology is as irrelevant as your claims that a GoPro looks like a weapon.

>> Not everyone is sane and/or rational, which is something that those of us who are have a hard time wrapping our minds around.

Actually, after reading your posts, most people will no problem with that.

David, calling someone an idiot? Really, man? Are you 9?
How about you go be a cop for a few years and come back and tell me that you don't fear for your life every day. Because I have actually asked cops, and their spouses, if that's their reality and 100% of them have said YES. Additionally, if you were brave enough to become a cop, fearing for your life every day, and if you were coming around the corner from the back of your car and you see a guy recording you and that guy has something in his hand that he calls a GoPro that looks nothing like a 2.5" x 1.5" rectangle that everyone knows is a GoPro (so you assume he's lying because not many people record with two devices simultaneously - I've never seen such a thing personally) and is being awkward and silent and standoff-ish, tell me you wouldn't be suspicious of their motives and possibly fearful for your life. Re-watch the video, the cop comes around the back of the car, looks up at this guy (who we can't see and who knows what he looks like, what he's wearing, what facial expressions he may have, and maybe he looks like a crazy person wearing an unwashed bathrobe and goblin bath slippers with a my little pony shirt on that's 3 sizes too small - because obviously his intent is to upset cops and elicit a reaction from them) and the cop instantly pauses to assess things. You can read his body language and tell that this isn't normal. Most people don't just stand on a sidewalk and stare at a cop, recording with one device while pointing something else at them that they claim in another camera. That's f'ing weird. So, again, I'd be suspicious of their motives, immediately.
Also, when you said "More idiotically still, you are now justifying threatening an unarmed civilian..." (calling me an idiot, twice). Actually, no. You chose not to mentally digest what I wrote when I said "I'm not saying the officer was in the right, but I understand his frame of mind, at least a little."
As for the scene of the crime comment, I had no idea what the officer was investigating when I watched the video and made the comments. I now know it was a routine traffic stop so, yeah, the comment makes no sense.

>>David, calling someone an idiot? Really, man? Are you 9?

John: your logic is idiotic. There is no way around it. Because people with bow ties sometimes, very rarely, commit crimes does not give policemen the right to threaten every bow tie wearer they see with death.

>> How about you go be a cop for a few years and come back and tell me that you don't fear for your life every day. Because I have actually asked cops, and their spouses, if that's their reality and 100% of them have said YES.

Then they are irrational and paranoid and should not be police officers. Because the death rate for police officers is tiny. And that - reality - is what matters. You don't get a pass and threatening to execute civilians in the street because you are a fool or a paranoid.

Rob Davis's picture

Just politely say, “It’s a GoPro. I use it to legally monitor police activity. Please let me know if I am reasonably preventing you from doing your job. My goal being here is to maintain everyone’s safety.”

Oliver Kmia's picture

I agree, It would have made a big difference I think.

Maybe. Maybe not. Police officers aren't always known for their restraint or good sense. Especially if the person with the camera is Black or another minority. Officers don't want to be filmed on camera engaging in activities, especially if those actions include abusing protestors and those they suspect of committing crimes.

The problem, Oliver, is that you and others give police officers too much benefit of the doubt when incidents such as the murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and Philandro Castillo, along with the assault and arrests of reporters and photographers by cops in St. Louis during last year's protests, prove otherwise. On this, I support the videographer because he is well within his First Amendment rights.

I can't blame the officer for being cautious. The videographer definitely tried to provoke a reaction, using abusive language and refusing to put down the camera. From the look of the camera, I could not tell immediately what it was. Common sense suggests that the videographer put the camera down and invite the officer to look at it close up, where he would see exactly what it is, and the situation would have been resolved quickly. Put yourself in the officer's place for one moment. You see a man approach you with something in his hands that could be a weapon of some sort. Being cautious, and not wanting to be shot, the officer puts his hands on his gun, then draws it, as he is trained to do. He again tells the man to put the thing he cannot identify down. The man's response is a stream of inventive that gets more and more aggressive and insulting by the second. He is obviously trying to provoke the officer to do more than draw his gun. If you were the officer, have a family, have seen friends and colleagues die in very similar, tense situations, what would you do?
That being said, there is definitely an issue with some police officers drawing and using their weapons before they have any sense of the situation they find themselves in. There are far too many news reports of these tragedies.
Our police need more training on not using "spray and pray justice", and how to assess every situation quickly and accurately. Citizens going out of their way to provoke a reaction from officers while recording the incident for their own propaganda do nothing to remedy this situation, they are just throwing gasoline on a fire. Let's all calm down.

Lee Christiansen's picture

The ease at which an officer can feel the need to pull a gun is quite amazing. If he can't recognise a camera from a firearm, then we have a problem with common sense and ability to discern a situation. What next - some one is holding a suspicious looking phone, or maybe their shopping bag looks like a bomb...?

If the US is going to arm its officers (we don't as standard in the UK), then that's just fine if its the preferred way - but for goodness sake this needs to be linked to some very solid training. And claims that officers feel under threat isn't cutting it. Training needs to overcome this. The few officers we have in the UK who can carry guns are intensely screened and trained, and retrained constantly. It is as much a personality suitability as much as an ability to aim and squeeze.

Not everyone who is suitable to be an officer is suitable to carry a gun. Heck we've plenty of officers here who I wouldn't give a gun to. In the same way that not all bus drivers are suited to drivng a race car just because it is a vehicle.

So either restrict the guns, or select the officers better. (Granted, this could mean there's not enough officers).

Now I'll take it that the photographer shouldn't have remained silent initially. It is much easier to answer straight away. But of course there does seem to be an overwhelming importance to protect some sort of amendment or right to something - and I guess he was just retaining this "right."

The yelling starts at the point where a gun is about to be unholstered. And to be honest, I think I'd be yelling a bit too. (And with the mic so close to the photographer we can assume the combo of volume and distortion mkes this sound worse.) But with enough unjustified shootings reported, (and more than one is enough), it would seem that we have a confrontation that escalated for no good reason.

To put this into context, I was filming in the UK some years ago when an officer approached me to ask what I was doing. I said I was filming with my camera. I remember the officer remarking that he "didn't know it was a camera. it might be a gun..." at which point I said don't be daft of course it is a camera. But I don't remember anyone pulling a weapon at me, no firearms were produced.

One thing that I think is being missed here is the attitude of the 3 officers after it was apparent an error of judgement was made, (and I'm being kind here). They stand their ground, make no attempt to diffuse the situation and aren't calling to base to resolve the issue. Instead they form a barrier to keep the photographer from the officer who pulled a gun. They've got an attitude of "what you going to do then..." This is the point where appologies are made, backing down is a good idea and no making things worse is even better.

Was the photographer agitated - most likely yes. How would we be feeling if a gun was pulled on us - I'm guessing a bit the same. Would we react the same way - maybe, maybe not... it certainly wasn't going to make much of a difference to seeing the end of a barrel. And if the officer is so fearful at that point, I wonder how little it would take for an extra squeeze of the trigger? This is where deathly mistakes are made.

The photographer knew his rights to be sure. Does this mean he was baiting the officer? We don't know. But what we do know is that he had a right to do his thing and the officer was most certainly wrong in his assesment of the situation and subsequent reaction.

Heck if you're entrusted with a gun, you'd better know what a gun looks like.

We don't have lots of guns on our streets. (and despite a few erroneous claims, no we don't have carnage with knife crime...), so we don't have an active fear of the things. But if there's going to be all those ammendment rights to film and carry - and we're adding in a mix of "I don't care if I die" from the photographer, and lack of police training - then I'm amazed this isn't a daily experience.

We make our beds and we have to lie in them...

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