In this YouTube video, a citizen photographer (Troy Stevenson) is observed in a confrontation with Tracy California SWAT Officers. The preliminary activities to the confrontation are unknown since the recording starts after the individual was initially contacted by the Officers. While there could be extenuating circumstances to the preliminary confrontation, or prior contact, the actions of the two SWAT Officers is suspect and un-professional at best. A subjective detailed analysis of the content of the video appears below:
The following is the opinion of the author and is not intended as advice or instigation in any manner. In an evaluation of an video, or audio interaction there may always be unknown factors or extenuating circumstances that affect the action of the participants. If anyone reading this has other input or knowledge, please share so that a near unbiased opinion can be presented.
Summary and Opinion
It can be understood that officers assigned to a SWAT unit may be concerned about an individual filming it’s training exercises. The situations that they are training for are very dangerous and almost always life threatening. Further the officers who perform such duties are inherently capable of very aggressive behavior but the nature of their duties.
But, this in fact was a training exercise that was held, apparently in public, in full view from a public accessible area. The need for secrecy does not out-way the basic rights of citizens in a public forum. An officers aggressive behavior should be controlled by professionalism and common sense.
If you are going to hold a police training exercise in a public venue, you need to expect that the public will want to observe and record as is their right to do so. Precautions should be taken to ensure that tactics, identities and command security are not compromised. Above all the public’s rights, safety and concerns are paramount. Public property belongs to the public, not the police.
The purpose for the initial stop and contact was apparent by the officers statements. Mr. Stevenson was approached because he was filming a police operation (training), which was held in public space and could be viewed from what was apparently a public right of way or easement. At no time did Officer Cisneros indicate that there was any other reason for the approach of Mr. Stevenson. At this point a crime had not been committed by Mr. Stevenson. Filming, in public, from a public space is not a crime per numerous federal court decisions. Mr. Stevenson was freely expressing his first amendment rights by filming in public. These rights were violated by the Officers. Further the officers approached Mr. Stevenson, not the other way around. In the video, Mr. Stevenson was not interfering with the officers in the performance of their duties, nor did he initially impose and immediate threat to the safety and security of the officers.
Contact, Detainment and Possible Assault and Battery
The cause for detainment, in this circumstance is debatable in that the officers had no probable cause to justify detainment or arrest. The act of filming police is not probable cause to arrest, detain or, for that matter, search.
It is not obvious in the video whether the officers had identified themselves as police officers. There was no apparent badges or ID’s visible. The vehicle that they used did not have marking or a visible department ID or license plate. It is quite possible that it was a personal vehicle.
Twice in the video Mr. Stevenson was apparently physically accosted by the Officers. Once by Officer Cisneros when he grabbed the cell phone and turned it off and again by Officer Ramirez during the contested Search when the cell phone was again turned off. In both situations the physical contact was not preceded by any verbal commands. There was no indication that a situation dictated expediency which would preclude the use of verbal command. The actions appeared to be abrupt and abrasive in the video presentation. Even with the situation involving a knife clipped to the subject, the physical contact occurred after the knife had been retrieved with the subjects approval. Under the circumstances of the contact, no reasonable suspicion of a crime was readily apparent, making the subsequent contact, search and possible assault possible violations and at least debatable.
The Folding Knife
Per the penal codes sections listed below: The supposed concealed weapon charge eluded to by Officer Ramirez is a totally invalid attempt by the Officer to justify an unwarranted stop and subsequent search and seizure. According to these sections a folding knife, that is carried is a folded position, even concealed in a pocket or by other means is not considered a concealed weapon. This is only valid if the knife is carried in such a way that it may be readily used as a weapon. The fact that the knife was carried openly visible on the waist may have some bearing in relationship to section 20200 concerning sheathed weapons carried on the waist.
Once the knife was observed and seen to be in close proximity to the subjects hands during the course of questioning it is totally reasonable for the officer to secure it during the course of the detainment (all be it a possible illegal stop and detainment). This is based on safety concerns by the officer.
The action of contending that the knife was the basis of the arrest/detainment is not valid, in that the knife was not a concern until half way through the encounter. This also is eerily reminiscent of warnings by the US Attorney Generals office regarding the lack a validity of such charges in attempt by law enforcement to validate an illegal stop/search/seizure related to a citizen filming the police or other public figure.
16470. As used in this part, “dirk” or “dagger” means a knife or
other instrument with or without a handguard that is capable of ready
use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or
death. A nonlocking folding knife, a folding knife that is not
prohibited by Section 21510, or a pocketknife is capable of ready use
as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death
only if the blade of the knife is exposed and locked into position.
20200. A knife carried in a sheath that is worn openly suspended
from the waist of the wearer is not concealed within the meaning of
Section 16140, 16340, 17350, or 21310.
Prior to the contact by the officers, there is not indications that Mr. Stevenson had done anything illegal to warrant a detainment or search. It is somewhat apparent that the original contact was made in relationship to the filming of the training exercise. This activity is not illegal. In fact the activity is protected by the 1st amendment and recent court decisions. In this case a “legal” search may be debatable based on penal code 833 (below) whereas “a police officer may search for dangerous weapons any person who he has legal cause to arrest.” In this case there was no apparent legal cause to arrest which could invalidate the probable cause to search.
This is, however, a somewhat dangerous position to take in that an officer in the performance of their duties must be able to ensure their safety. It would be much more prudent to ensure your safety by a reasonable, non intrusive nor aggressive search, than to be the subject of a fatal assault for failure to do so. In this case, had the officers not approached the subject for an invalid reason, the search would not have been necessary. Once the contact was made, the search may have been necessary to ensure ones safety.
The other aspect of this that I find lacking is what I would describe as “Use your Officers voice.” Meaning talk before you act if the situation is not urgent. “I need to search you because I have a concern regarding concealed weapons.” This could diffuse a violent response by a subject to a perceived aggressive act by an officer.
California Penal Code, Section 833 “Search for Dangerous Weapons”
A peace officer may search for dangerous weapons any person whom he has legal cause to arrest, whenever he has reasonable cause to believe that the person possesses a dangerous weapon. If the Officer finds a dangerous weapon, he may take and keep it until the completion of the questioning, when he shall either return it or arrest the person. The arrest may be for the illegal possession of a weapon.
During the course of the search by Officer Ramirez, Officer Cisneros had taken Mr. Stevenson’s wallet. This was done without the knowledge of the owner/subject, also without notice of receipt of the item. In a broad sense of the meaning, this could have been considered a theft.
Out of all the circumstances presented in this video, this is one of the most troubling. The manner in which Mr. Stevenson’s wallet was taken is a pure indication of the non-professionalism and disregard for a citizens rights. When the subject expressed a concern about the necessity of presenting his ID, the officers obtained it in an illegal manner, as if they had a right to it without the knowledge or consent of the owner. Not only did they obtain the ID, but they also came into possession of everything else in the wallet (money, credit cards, family photos, etc). They had no legal right to any of these items in an illegal seizure. They left themselves, and their department open to a number of liabilities in this instance.
The other indication of misconduct were present in the dialog of Officer Ramirez when Mr. Stevenson noticed his wallet missing. Statements to the effect of “We will find it” and that they were running his ID gave a good indication of the knowledge of misconduct on their part.
Ending and Departure
The ending to the encounter only serves to pour salt on the wounds of the activity of the officers and amplify the degree of unprofessional-ism.
They had approached an individual with no legal justifications to do so. They had physically accosted the individual by grabbing his camera and his person and subjected him to an illegal search based on an unjustified contact. They attempted to use his possession of a legal pocket knife as a basis for the entire incident and grounds for a search. During the course of the search, they had come into possession of his wallet (by theft?) without knowledge or notification. They had run his criminal history without warrant, arrest or probable cause.
And once the incident was over, they made him leave a public area where he had every right to be. This done in the manner of a gorilla “chest thumping” to show it’s prowess and authority.
Police Department Information:
Tracy Police Department
Gary R. Hampton, Chief of Police
1000 Civic Center Drive
Tracy, CA 95376
Phone: (209) 831-6550 (Non-Emergency)
Step by Step Visual Analysis:
Apparently this video starts after the photographer had been video-taping a SWAT training exercise in the town of Tracy, California. The photographer was approached by an individual (a supposed police officer) with an inquiry as to the reason he was filming the police activity. The photographer was not filming at the time he was approached but began filming shortly after the initial contact.
The initial inquiry was as to why the citizen was filming SWAT training and to ascertain his identity. The individual (later identified as Officer Cisneros, badge #126) then, in in an aggressive manner, physically snatches the cell phone from the photographer. The recording is then stopped during the apparent scuffle by the officer. It is noted that the officer is not in uniform, has no badge or ID visible and has not identified himself as a peace officer prior to the grab for the cell phone (although the identification phase may be prior to the commencement of the recording).
Upon commencement of recording Officer Cisneros has been joined in the video by another individual, later identified as Officer Ramirez, badge #129. It is noted that officer Ramirez is also not in uniform and has no badge or name-tag visible. Officer Ramirez is observed wearing a t-shirt with Tracy SWAT lettering on the front of it. Officer Ramirez is attempting to ID the photographer. The photographer verbally gives the officer his name and date of birth. Officer Ramirez requests a valid “photo id.” Mr Stevenson (photographer) questions the request, stating that he is a not committed a crime. Officer Ramirez then indicates the request is mandatory because the photographer was filming the police “for no reason.”
Officer Ramirez then notices a folding knife apparently clipped to Mr. Stevensons side and states “keep your hand away from that,” while reaching towards Mr. Stevenson. Officer Ramirez then takes the knife, with the consent of Mr. Stevenson. He then states that Mr. Stevenson was carrying a concealed weapon and inquires as to other weapons as he approaches to search Mr. Stevenson. Mr. Stevenson vehemently protest that he does not consent to a search. During his objection it is apparent that there is a minor scuffle, Mr Stevenson states “please don’t touch my phone,” and the video is cut off once again.
Upon resumption of the video Mr. Stephenson states that an illegal search has taken place and that he was attempting to get his wallet out coincidental to the search. It is further ascertained that Mr. Stevenson had dropped his wallet during the course of the search by Officer Ramirez. What is most disturbing is that Officer Cisneros apparently had picked up the wallet, once it was dropped and taken the entire wallet away from the vicinity of Mr. Stevenson and Officer Ramirez. This fact is confirmed in the further statements by Officer Ramirez (that Officer Cisneros had taken the wallet to get the ID out of it). Officer Ramirez attempt to deflect the subject of the wallet by once again inquiring about the reason that Mr. Stephenson was filming.
Mr. Stevenson and Officer have also been joined by two other Officers, dressed in military uniform attire. These individuals are not identified in the course of the video. One of these officers asserts that if Mr. Stevenson wants to come and be “within their proximity” he must provide them with ID. It is also asserted that Mr. Stevenson’s purpose is to “start a confrontation. Officer Ramirez attempt to draw attention to the supposed “concealed knife” as a reason for their actions, even though the knife activity did not occur until near halfway through the video.
Shortly Officer Ramirez and Cisneros approached Mr. Stevenson from a White SUV, parked on the shoulder of the road. Officer Ramirez hands Mr. Stevenson a black wallet and a red and black folding knife, which appears to be approximately 4 inches long. It is further apparent that the wallet had in fact been taken by Officer Cisneros and taken to the vicinity of the White SUV. The SUV is unmarked as a police vehicle and bears no distinguishing marks as a city or police vehicle. The California License number is 3WWG785. It is possibly a personal vehicle.
Mr. Stevenson is told he is free to go with no citation given. He is further told to go across the street. When the point of an illegal search and a complaint pursuant to is mentioned, by Mr Stevenson, Officer Ramirez states “It’s called a pat-down for weapons, look it up.” After further conversation, Officer Ramirez states, ” Enjoy your safety, have a good day.”
* Reasonable and constructive comments are encouraged*