By Tess Owen
A New York police officer has been stripped of his gun and badge after pointing his weapon at a man who was filming an arrest in Harlem. The bystander recorded the entire incident and posted the footage on Facebook.
The video, which was recorded on Thursday evening, shows two plainclothes officers pinning a man to the floor in the lobby of an apartment building. One of the officers, who is wearing a black T-shirt, grows increasingly agitated with a bystander, later identified as Calvin West, who was recording the encounter. With the suspect still pinned underneath him, the officer draws his gun, points it at West, and repeatedly shouts “Back up!”In an interview with local TV news broadcaster NY1, West said the officer threatened him by saying, “Move. Get out of here. I’m not playing with you all. I’ll shoot.”
Deloris Johnson, tenant association president of the apartment building where the incident occurred, told NY1 that the officer “held out the gun like he was one of them god damn gangsters or like a gang member.”
Another video, purportedly recorded moments prior to the gun pointing incident, shows the officer leaving the lobby of the apartment building and walking up to a young man, later identified as 19-year-old Jahnico Harvey, who is holding a cellphone. The officer punches Harvey and drags him to the ground. Harvey was reportedly charged with menacing and disorderly conduct, and issued a desk appearance ticket.
The incident began with the cops investigating a double-parked car, according to the New York Times. As officers were speaking with the driver of the vehicle and his passenger, two men riding dirt bikes drove up and started circling them. With the cops distracted, the two suspects in the car tried to run away. The officers followed Dayshawn Bettway, 21, one of the dirt bike riders, into the lobby of an apartment building, where he was arrested and later charged with assault, reckless endangerment, obstruction, and resisting arrest.
The officers later found out that the double-parked car, a 2015 Hyundai sedan, had been reported stolen from Connecticut. A search of the vehicle turned up marijuana and ammunition. The Times reported that, as of Friday, police had not yet arrested the second dirt bike rider, the driver of the Hyundai, or the passenger. The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News on Sunday.
Related: FBI Director James Comey Links ‘Viral Video Effect’ to Spike in Crime Rates
Filming or “watching” the police is a fundamental tenet of the Black Lives Matter movement, with the idea being that if ordinary citizens turn their cellphone cameras on police activity, it will keep officers accountable and catch instances of misconduct. The trend builds on the “CopWatch” movement that started in Oakland in the 1990s.
“The right of citizens to record the police is a critical check and balance,” the American Civil Liberties Union writes on their website. “It creates an independent record of what took place in a particular incident, free from accusations of bias, lying, or fault memory. It is no accident that some of the most high-profile cases of police misconduct have involved video and audio records.
“However,” the ACLU adds, “there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places and harassing, detaining, and arresting those who fail to comply.”
Federal courts have been inconsistent about whether people have a constitutional right to record video and audio of police officers in a public place. In a 2011 case, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that police arresting people for recording public officials violates the First and Fourth Amendment. But in March, a District Court judge in Philadelphia ruled that two people who were arrested after filming officers were not protected under the First Amendment because they didn’t explicitly and loudly state that they were recording police activity with the intention of being critical or challenging the government.
Related: Nearly Two Years After Michael Brown’s Death, Missouri May Block Access to Police Footage
Earlier this month, the ACLU of New Hampshire joined a federal civil rights lawsuit as co-counsel representing Alfredo Valentin, 44, a US Marine Corps veteran who was arrested by the Manchester Police Department for recording two officers as they executed a search warrant on his property, as part of an investigation of one of his tenants.
The officers arrested him, confiscated his phone, and charged him with felony wiretapping — an offense punishable by up to seven years in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. There have been many other instances in which a officers cite the state’s wiretapping statute while arresting a bystander for recording video or audio.
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen – Vice News
By Tess Owen