Back in July, I posted on a photographer being harassed and unlawfully detained by the Round Rock police. The photographer subsequently filed a complaint with the department (which I covered in the update).
About a month after the original complaint, the photographer contacted the department again and was told that the investigation had been completed.
The investigator addressed three areas: A complaint of a First Amendment violation; a complaint of a Fourth Amendment violation, and a complaint of Excessive Force. The investigator made findings of unfounded, sustained, and exonerated. This makes sense from their point of view, but ignores several issues.
First, the officers did violate the photographer’s Fourth Amendment rights and the investigator properly sustained that complaint. Sustained, in police lingo, means that it is a valid complaint and that the officer violated law or policy. Here this is clear. Officer Hernandez did not have reasonable suspicion of a crime or criminal activity, yet demanded identification and handcuffed the photographer. The photographer was illegally seized by the officer.
Second, I disagree on the excessive force, but I understand how the investigator got to that conclusion. The only way to change that position would be to sue the department, and you are looking at a lot of expense for limited returns given the de minimus nature of any injury. Exonerated means that the officer did the actions complained of, but that they were within policy. Here, the department likely believes that mere handcuffs are not a use of force and the matter is adequately covered by the Fourth Amendment violation.
Unfortunately, that is not, in my opinion, a correct view. The use of handcuffs is a use of force and that is recognized by the courts. See Nargi v. State, 895 S.W.2d 820, 822 (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 1995), pet. dism’d, improvidently granted, 922 S.W.2d 180 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996). However, the federal Fifth Circuit has held that “[H]andcuffing too tightly, without more, does not amount to excessive force. There is no allegation here that [the officer] acted with malice.” Glenn v. City of Tyler, 242 F.3d 307, 314 (5th Cir. 2001). Of course in Glenn, the officer was justified in using handcuffs. I would argue that the fact that there was no justification for applying the handcuffs and then stating that they would stay on until the photographer identified himself was the “more” required by the Fifth Circuit. But as I said, that would take court action to fix, and it’s not going to happen in this case.
Finally, on the First Amendment issue. Technically the officer did not impede the photographer’s right to film, thus the unfounded finding. That explanation ignores the fact that had it not been for the photography, there would have been no police contact to begin with, and no other violations. However, this likely served to educate most of the department, especially with the finding that was made.
Apparently the punishment or disciplinary action was apparently limited to a letter of reprimand.
Under the circumstances, I think that this was appropriate for Officer Hernandez. I don’t see that Sergeant Osborn had any action taken against him, however, that may be due to the fact that there was no complaint made against him.
Finally, I see no indication that the department even acknowledged that refusing to identify oneself while not under arrest is not a crime in Texas.