The Spectacle Blog

Recording the Police Gets Some Police in Trouble

By on 9.21.11 | 1:40PM

More than a year ago, two Prince George's County police officers dressed in riot gear attacked University of Maryland student John J. McKenna during the post-game celebrations of a basketball game. The officers have finally been indicted and charged with first-degree assault, thanks to a video capturing the episode (embedded below). Were it not for the video, the officers' claims that the student had attacked officers on horseback could have stuck. (If you view the video, you'll see no attack ever happened.)

Unsurprisingly, Maryland is not friendly toward filming of police officers. In an editorial titled "Watching the Watchmen Is No Crime," last year, the Washington Examiner catalogued how the police have tried to stifle those who would record their behavior:

Traffic cameras watch your speed, security cameras watch your comings and goings, but is anyone watching the police? Police in Maryland, Michigan and elsewhere would rather you didn't -- particularly not on YouTube. Just last Saturday, Yvonne Nicole Shaw, 27, was arrested in Lexington Park, Md., for recording deputies in her apartment complex responding to a noise complaint. Sheriff's Cpl. Patrick Handy's report explained the arrest: Shaw "did admit to recording our encounter on her cell phone for the purpose of trying to show the police are harassing people." This sounds like she was more of a threat to the jobs of public safety officers than to public safety itself. One is not the same as the other.

Another recent example of contempt for the average camera-wielding citizen in Maryland: Anthony Graber's home was raided by police, after which he was arrested and jailed, charged with violating Maryland's wiretapping statute. What did he do? He posted video of a traffic stop during which a Maryland State trooper drew his firearm. For this offense, Graber faces five years in prison.

As Reason's Mike Riggs points out, the attorney representing one of the officers is trying to reframe what is caught on tape:

"This case is not about police misconduct," William C. Brennan told WaPo. "It is about the lawlessness and destructive riots following University of Maryland athletic events."

While it is true that the riots following a university athletic event are over the top, what's more over the top is how the officers' claims are flatly contradicted by the video. It calls into question even the lawyer's claim that his client has served honorably for eight years. Even if there were a a weak justification for the attack -- the student refusing to stand down, shouting drunken threats, whatever -- the opportunity to express it with any shred of credibility is wholly undermined.

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