Austin man says officers violated his First Amendment rights

An Austin man said his First Amendment rights were violated when police blocked him from videotaping a traffic stop Friday night.

Phillip Turner said Austin police had pulled over a driver in North Austin and he decided to get out and record them.

Officers then used flashlights to obstruct turner's camera from filming the interaction.

“This police officer's armed, he has guns, he has a Taser, he has a nightstick and I have a camera,” said Turner. 

Turner said he uses his camera to fight back against police injustice. That's why he said he chose to record officers as they stopped a driver on Burnet Road.

“Probably not within 30 seconds, an officer pulls up in his car, stops within a few feet of me with his light shined on me,” said Turner. 

Turner said he was about 50 feet away from the cop making the traffic stop when two others used their flashlights to obstruct his camera's view.

“He was like, ‘you know some of these cops are intimidated by you guys.’ And I was like, ‘what do you mean by that?’ He said, ‘some of these cops are scared of you guys with cameras, I'm not scared,’” Turner said. 

Turner said he was exercising his First Amendment right by taking a video of the officers on scene and he was surprised when they reacted the way they did.

“He kept saying that, ‘I don't want you to interfere with this traffic stop.’ I don't interfere with traffic stops. I silently record,” said Turner. 

Turner cited section 302 of the Austin Police Department's policy handbook to the officers.

“You are not allowed to intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices and also in any way threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage an individual from recording officers enforcement activities,” said Turner. 

“I'm not worried about that right now,” one officer told him. 

The policy handbook does state bystanders can take photos or record video as long as it "takes place in a setting at which the individual has a legal right to be present and does not interfere with an officer's safety or lawful duties." But police continued to block his camera's view of the scene and told him, although he was not being detained, he could not leave in his vehicle.

Turner contacted Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo with the video and Acevedo replied on Twitter saying, "Actions on this video aren't reflective of our policy or our values & are under investigation."

“What I think is fair is that these officers should be reprimanded and suspended without pay,” said Turner.

Turner said he has filed six complaints in the last year for this kind of behavior from Austin police officers and they have always come back "unfounded." After this latest incident, he said he plans to take it one step further.

“I might have to sue the city, because, obviously, I have multiple incidents here. All I want to do is go out and document police, educate others, and I can't even practice my First Amendment right,” Turner said.

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