In these two videos, you see Aaron Friesen being contacted twice by a deputy from the Carson City Sheriff’s office and by a deputy (Dep. Willy) from the Lyon County Sheriff’s office.  In the first contact, Friesen is contacted and asked why he is recording deputies coming in and out of the gate by Willy.  Friesen asks if he is free to go and Willy says yes, so Friesen walks down the street.

A few minutes later (2d video), the deputies recontact him.  This time the deputy tells him he’s being detained and to put his iPad down.  The deputy then tells Friesen that he cannot record law enforcement officers and the license plate numbers of their vehicles, that it is a violation of law.  Friesen immediately asks where in the Nevada Revised Statutes (N.R.S.) that it is a violation and the deputy asks if he wants him to call the sheriff over to explain it to him.  Friesen replies that he does want it explained to him.  The deputy then says that they can make this real easy or that they can make it real hard – which doesn’t cause Friesen to back down at all.  The deputies do conduct a Terry frisk, a pat-down of the outer garments for weapons.  See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1967).  The deputy justifies the pat-down by saying that he doesn’t know him and he’s filming deputies.  Once a supervisor shows up, he basically says that there is nothing the officers can do about Friesen’s filming.

Let’s review what happened and why it happened.

  • The deputies did not like being filmed, especially when the video was capturing their personal vehicles license plate numbers.  There is a valid concern here for officers, they do not want to bring any consequences of the job home to their families.  This is a reason that officer’s addresses are not normally subject to public information requests, etc.  When Friesen was first contacted, the deputies felt that he would be intimidated enough to leave.
  • Once he didn’t completely leave, they became irritated (how dare he not respect our authority) so they contacted him again.  Look at the initial response on the second contact, how the officer is acting.
  • The officer did not know the law.  He felt that filming police was wrong, so it must be against the law.  This is not uncommon among officers–look at the reaction when the supervisor indicated you can’t really do anything about it.  The one deputy asks, almost incredulously, if the supervisor was “OK” with Friesen filming.
  • The “I don’t know you” mantra has taken hold in the police world, and officers do not realize that this is not a valid reason for a pat-down search.  Examples of this abound.  The law student in Portland, Maine example.  Whitehall, Pennsylvania.  Several courts have ruled on this issue also, see United States v. Black, 707 F.3d 531 (4th Cir. 2013) (Being a felon in possession of a firearm is not the default status).
  • Officer safety.  Officers believe that they can justify almost anything under officer safety, which is understandable, that is what police academies and defensive tactics instructors teach them.  They don’t realize that officer safety measures must be related to the detention in the first place, see United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552 (10th Cir. 1993) (Officer’s conduct was not “reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place,” and went far beyond what was necessary to protect her safety).
  • Finally, officers are taught to believe that they know more about criminal law than anyone else.  For example, in one training session I went through, the instructor flatly stated that police officers received more classroom instruction in criminal law than lawyers did, basing it on the fact that most law students take a class in Criminal Law and maybe a class in Criminal Procedure.  Since I’m now in law school, I realize how idiotic this view is since lawyers don’t learn the law in the same way that police officers do.  Officers learn what the exact statutes are, lawyers learn the principles behind it, how to research it, case or common law, procedures, etc.  The problem is that an officer will read the text and decide on his own what it means, while a lawyer will double-check case law to make sure.  This means the officer will often try to stretch things to cover acts that are not criminal, or seek to apply a law that has be ruled unconstitutional (because it is still on the books, it must be OK).

This isn’t the only example of this in Carson City.