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Maryland Man Charged After Recording Traffic Stop

by @ 2:25 pm on June 16, 2010. Filed under In The News, Individual Liberty

In Maryland, the police can tape you, but you can’t tape them:

It started as just another traffic stop.

In early March, Anthony Graber, a 25-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard, was humming a tune while riding his two-year-old Honda motorcycle down Interstate 95, not far from his home north of Baltimore. On top of his helmet was a camera he often used to record his journeys. The camera was rolling when an unmarked gray sedan cut him off as he stopped behind several other cars along Exit 80.

From the driver’s side emerged a man in a gray pullover and jeans. The man, who was wielding a gun, repeatedly yelled at Graber, ordering him to get off his bike. Only then did Maryland State Trooper Joseph D. Uhler identify himself as “state police” and holster his weapon. Graber, who’d been observed popping a wheelie while speeding, was cited for doing 80 in a 65 mph zone. Graber accepted his ticket, which he says he deserved.

A week later, on March 10, Graber posted his video of the encounter on YouTube. What followed wasn’t a furor over the police officer’s behavior but over Graber’s use of a camera to capture the entire episode.

On April 8, Graber was awakened by six officers raiding his parents’ home in Abingdon, Md., where he lived with his wife and two young children. He learned later that prosecutors had obtained a grand jury indictment alleging he had violated state wiretap laws by recording the trooper without his consent.

The case has ignited a debate over whether police are twisting a decades-old statute intended to protect people from government intrusions of privacy to, instead, keep residents from recording police activity.

What was it that had the police so upset ? Well, here’s the video:

There’s no sound because, under Maryland law, it is illegal to make an audio recording of a conversation without the other person’s consent, but the video tape is pretty clear.

David Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland who is part of Graber’s defense team, said on-duty officers have no expectation of privacy while doing their job in public. If police need to talk to an informant, they can have a private conversation, he said. “But when they are public officials performing their duty for everyone to see and hear, that is not a private conversation,” Roach said.

State supreme courts in Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington have upheld people’s right to record police officers. (Illinois has since made it illegal to record anyone without consent.)

And it’s worth noting that, just recently, a camera was instrumental in uncovering a particularly brutal instance of police brutality:

As Graber’s case moves forward, civil libertarians are concerned about its implications in light of what happened to John McKenna, an unarmed University of Maryland student who was beaten in March by three police officers after the school’s basketball victory over Duke. Police initially charged McKenna and another student with assaulting mounted police and alleged his injuries were caused by the horses. After a private investigator working for McKenna’s attorney uncovered a video of the incident, the charges were dropped. The Prince George’s County prosecutor and the FBI have since launched investigations.

If people who videorecord police are successfully prosecuted, even if they capture misconduct, the evidence they gathered is not admissible in court.

A judge could still dismiss the case against Graber at a hearing scheduled for October. But Rocah said it might be too late because “the message of intimidation has already been sent.”

Which is, perhaps, what the Maryland State Police wanted.

3 Responses to “Maryland Man Charged After Recording Traffic Stop”

  1. Dave says:

    Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley uses KGB tactics to try and scare organization that is in opposition to his re-election –

  2. DAVID says:

    OK, lets just say I don’t have no need for these motorcyclist that ride like their butt is on fire and they are trying to put it out by the faster and dumber they ride. As a rider myself there is enough trouble out there with the 4 wheel idiots not watching out for us. With that said, with the way things are these days, if I get some idiot in a car pulling up beside me and getting out with a weapon, he or she will get 2 bullets center mass before they can utter a word. This was handled all wrong, the unmarked car should have gave way too the marked car for the stop. As far as recording it, it doesn’t look like he had a chance too tell the police it was recording.

  3. scooter says:

    an off duty cops have no more power than any normal citizen citazen i said it twice because thats what we are as well as the cops i am so tired of all the cops thinking they have a legal right to do what they want when they want and how they want im all for obaying the law but i question the law all the time i see the cops breaking the law screaming to the donut shop or ilegal parking to use the bathroom look it up on you tube one man in new york films them all the time i say good for him keep them in check they are supose to follow the laws even more than us to um what is it set an exzample!!! the state trooper from pa that atitude is why police like you have been removed from the earth cocky and arogent some day you might do that to the wrong person we had one in michigan herassed a man to long and he waited for them and took out two of them and thair dog!look it up! its time for a change we the people are in charge not the police state or goverment make them accountable or it will continue as it has!!!

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