Man faces jail for YouTube video of traffic stop

A member of the Maryland Air National Guard is stopped for speeding on his motorcycle. He films his encounter with a police officer and puts it on YouTube. He is now being prosecuted for breaking wiretap laws.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Have you ever been stopped by a police officer and been tempted to whip out one of your fine portable gadgets and film the encounter?

Perhaps you wanted it for posterity, as a lesson to yourself on your own bad behavior. Perhaps you wanted it for humor because the officer had stopped you for walking down a Bronx street with your underpants showing. Or perhaps the officer was in something of an intolerant mood.

It may have been one of these things that drove Anthony Graber, a staff sergeant in the Maryland Air National Guard, to shoot events that followed his being stopped for speeding on his motorcycle. However, Time magazine reports that he now could face up to 16 years in jail for his film, one with which he decided to grace YouTube.

It seems that the police officer in question might not have behaved impeccably. He reportedly cut Graber off in a vehicle that wasn't obviously police issue, he was not in uniform, and seems to have raised his voice, gun in hand, before actually mentioning that he was a state trooper.

It is all a little reminiscent of a 2008 incident in New York's Times Square, in which a YouTube video clearly showed an officer make like Lawrence Taylor and barge a bicyclist to the ground. The officer was dismissed from the force. Yet how different that incident might have been had it not been so clearly filmed by a bystander.

In Graber's case, it appears that the prosecutor's argument may be that he violated wiretap laws, a threat that has been reportedly used in previous instances. Graber, who had not previously enjoyed the law's attention, had his house raided and his computers taken. I can find no evidence that an iPhone 4 prototype was found.

The wiretap argument enjoys an interesting logic: that the audio part of a conversation between a police officer and a suspect is private, and therefore, according to laws in certain states, both parties have to agree to any recording.

However, traffic stops don't really seem all that private. Indeed, they often cause traffic congestion as rubberneckers slow their vehicles to take in the action. So one wonders just how sturdy that argument might appear in any eventual court case.

And then there's the police highly technological penchant for dashboard cams. Don't they make TV shows out of the footage? Is the logic really that the police can film anything, but the public can't?

Some might wonder whether the police haven't paid sufficient homage to the wise words of Google's Eric Schmidt: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."