First Amendment videotaped audit of police leads to investigation

First Amendment videotaped audit of police leads to investigation
March 26
00:00 2015

The Winston-Salem Police Department’s Professional Standards Division has been busy investigating an officer’s behavior that was videotaped in February and released, last week, during Sunshine Week, a movement that promotes transparency and open government.

The video was posted to YouTube by Walkertown resident Richard “Rick” Goins, who was videotaping the rear area of the Winston-Salem Public Safety Center when he was confronted by Lt. R. B. Rose, who asked what he was doing.

Kimya N. Dennis, assistant professor in Salem College’s sociology and criminal studies department, said that she felt the officer did the right thing by asking what was going on.

“In terms of asking the man questions and even asking the man not to randomly videotape the police department. This is understandably suspicious based on potential threats to law enforcement agencies,” she said.

Rose, a 26-year-veteran  can be seen on camera insulting Goins calling him names and asking if that was the only way he could get women, if his children would be proud of him and whether or not he was on medication.

A media release says that the WSPD is worried about the comments that were made to Goins and has referred the matter to the WSPD Professional Standards Division (its version of Internal Affairs) for an administrative investigation to determine if any of the city’s or department’s policies were violated.

“As we are in the preliminary stages of the administrative investigation, it is inappropriate to make conclusions at this time or speculate on any corrective action that may be taken against Lt. Rose,” the release stated.

Dennis, who watched the video, feels that they should be worried about those statements.

“The older officer (Rose) fell short when he began arguing with the man: calling the man jealous and strange, talking about the man’s family and questioning the man’s mental capacity,” she said. “That was unnecessary police behavior and shows improper crisis de-escalation skills.”

A representative with the department said they were “unable to speak about the matter” because it is a personnel matter.

Investigators believe that the video was a part of a national trend titled “First Amendment Audit,” according to a media release sent out Friday afternoon from the Winston-Salem Police Department. The purpose of the trend is to attract the attention of law enforcement or military security personnel to determine if those security personnel will infringe on their First Amendment rights.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, taking photos of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities and police and other government officials carrying out their jobs.

When in public spaces where you area lawfully present, you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view, except when you are on private property, where the owner can set the rules.

The release states that Rose approached Goins “because Mr. Goins appeared to be photographing the critical infrastructure of the Police Department facilities.”

An email, according to the video and the release, was sent out about Goins last week after he was seen observing other buildings in the area, including the Hiram H. Ward Federal Building, the Forsyth County Hall of Justice, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and the Winston-Salem Transit Authority Administrative Building and fuel pumps.

“The point of citizens’ rights to record law enforcement is for police-citizen encounters. The point is not to randomly film police departments just to prove a point about First Amendment and public property,” Dennis said. “Doing so just to prove a point can be problematic, especially since the First Amendment is not equally applied across demographics and across contexts.”

While it was not released what would happened to Rose, officers will receive additional training regarding encounters with residents that may be engaged in similar activities.

In the release, residents were also encouraged to call the police or the Department of Homeland Security in the event they spot someone who is videotaping critical infrastructure or behaving in a suspicious manner.

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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