Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.
Recording encounters with the police is sometimes the only way people feel they can preserve evidence of what might have happened.
Indeed, in many cities, the police themselves are being equipped with body cameras to preserve their own side of the story.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, however, the fact that recording the police is perfectly legal may not have gotten through to one or two officers of the law. Or perhaps it's a law they don't like.
As WECT-TV reports, Jesse Bright was performing his duties as an Uber driver when his car was stopped outside a pawn shop. His passenger was, it seemed to Bright, about to be arrested.
Bright, however, decided to record the officers on his cell phone. Many people feel this is wise in such circumstances. Some have every reason to, like the man who was stopped in his car and told by a police officer that he must be a pot-smoker because he plays frisbee golf.
Bright sits calmly in his car and records the police through the passenger side of the vehicle. Then an officer -- whom Bright identified as Sgt. Kenneth Becker -- says to him: "Hey bud. Turn that off, OK."
To which Bright politely replies: "No, I'll keep recording. Thank you. It's my right."
The officer insists he stop. He walks around to the driver's side.
"Be careful because there's a new law. Turn it off or I'll take you to jail," says the officer.
Bright asks him what this law is. To which the officer replies: "Step out of the car."
Bright wants to know why he's being arrested. The officer tells him he's being a jerk. "I'm scared right now. I'm not being a jerk. I'm recording in case anything happens," says Bright.
That's when the officer says he's going to search Bright's car. Bright says he knows his rights. "I hope so," replies the sergeant. "I know what the law is."
This might be a good time to mention that as well as being an Uber driver, Bright is an attorney. It might also be a good time to mention that the Supreme Court has ruled it's perfectly legal to record the police in the course of their duty, as long as you're not obstructing.
The video makes for even more dispiriting viewing when a New Hanover County Sheriff comes over and appears to corroborate that North Carolina has this supposed new law.
Neither the Sheriff's Office nor the Wilmington Police Department immediately responded to a request for comment.
Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous offered me this statement: "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."
Evangelous added he has launched an internal investigation.
The sheriff's office spoke in similar tones, as reported by the Port City Daily: "Not only does the Sheriff agree that it is legal to record encounters, he invites citizens to do so. As a result, the Deputy involved has been counseled."
The police have a difficult and sometimes dangerous job to do. Many do it very well. But to appear to intimidate someone who is simply protecting himself and acting within his rights paints a painful picture. What if Bright had not been an attorney? What if he'd been just another citizen, suddenly confronted with a tense situation? What might have happened then?
Bright didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. He doesn't believe, though, that this was an isolated incident or an honest mistake.
"It's probably something that at least the lower officers do as a habit, telling people to turn [off] the video, just in case something happens, they have all the copies of the video," he told WECT.
You might be wondering, though, how this police intervention ended. Bright told WECT that a K-9 unit arrived, that the dog didn't appear to find anything untoward, but the police searched his vehicle anyway without his permission. He said an officer performed a body search on him too.
"He found absolutely nothing illegal in my vehicle, or my person, and eventually walked back to his car," Bright told WECT. "Another officer told me that me and my Uber passenger were free to go."
First published March 9, 6:04 p.m. PT.
Update, 9:32 a.m.: Adds statement from Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous.
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