Do you know what your rights are when you’re pulled over by a police officer? One North Carolina man certainly did when police officers wrongly told him that he couldn’t record them, as per a new state law. Turns out, that law doesn’t exist in North Carolina.
Jesse Bright, a defense attorney who also drives for Uber in his spare time, was making a round trip fare for a customer when he was stopped after the customer had returned to the vehicle. He decided to record the whole thing. After being pulled over, the customer was asked to exit the vehicle and submit to a search. Bright heard the officer describe the location as a “drug house.”
When the officers noticed that Bright was recording the traffic stop, Wilmington Police Sergeant Kenneth Becker told Bright to stop recording or he could be taken to jail. An officer present from the New Hanover Sheriff’s department agreed with Becker that that was the law. In an interview after the incident, Bright said he’s sure the officers knew they were giving false information. “They should know -I’m sure they do know- that it’s legal to record police,” Bright explained.
Bright said he had decided to record the traffic stop because he was being asked too many questions and felt unsafe. After being told he would be taken to jail, he said Sergeant Becker tried to open his door, but he held on tight and wouldn’t let the officer in. A spokesperson for the Wilmington Police Department has said that an internal investigation into the officer’s behavior is underway. She said that police would not be able to comment until the investigation was over. She also said that it was not department policy to wrongly inform citizens that it is illegal to film traffic stops or other officer interactions.
Chief Ralph Evangelous issued this statement after the incident, stating that each officer would also be given this same statement to read.
“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.”
The New Hanover Sheriff’s Department issued a similar statement, stating that their officer involved was also being counseled and that each deputy at the department was being made aware of every citizen’s right to record interactions with police. Bright said his constitutional rights were violated by the officers. Still, he believes the officers had a reason for what they did.
“It’s definitely in their best interest to have the only copy of the video, but it’s not within their rights to have the only copy in an incident,” Bright explained. “If the only recording of an incident is on their camera, they kind of control if that gets released or sometimes there can be a malfunction with it.” He also believes that this problem goes much further than this single incident.
Irene Como, an attorney with American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said this is the first incident of this nature that they’ve seen captured on video. She said that the ACLU will continue to monitor the situation and see how the two departments involved handle the incident with their officers.