Date of incident: 8-24-15
Recently we shared the story- Lehigh Valley Copblock’s Founder Crushes A DUI Checkpoint.
I promised to take a film crew to the police department to hold the officers accountable for refusing to identify themselves at the checkpoint and threatening to tow my car if I didn’t leave.
When I arrived at the station I was instantly asked to stop rolling film. I am no stranger to public filming rules as can be seen in my other videos. I immediately told the secretary the laws and then stood up to an angry looking detective about the issue. After some consideration I decided that getting them violating my 1st Amendment rights on film was enough, and to pursue the rest later while waiting outside for the chief of police, as they requested.
When Chief Fogel arrived I expertly shut him down and make him realize his department’s mistake in not following proper DUI policies and procedures as posted by the State of Pennsylvania. Even after being informed of pending charges against me for the checkpoint audit, I did not waver from my rights or lose my composure.
As I always say, “When you lose your cool, you instantly lose.”
After everything was said and done I was ideologically ahead of the Lehigh Township Police Department, but had goals yet to accomplish.
The next day I decided to send Chief Fogel a harsh, but legal sounding email, including the statements, “You don’t make the rules” and “you don’t have a leg to stand on”. My bold email was enough of a knockout punch to the target that the department, via the chief’s recommendation, decided to drop charges immediately.
While Chief Fogel did not back down from his “rule” of no filming there, he did drop the charges against me and even revealed the identity of the officers in question. A full transcript of my letter, as well as the chief’s response, can be read below along with a picture of the dropped charges from the local court.
This small department has now been called out on two different occasions by Lehigh Valley CopBlock. Our group truly hopes that our multiple disclosures get to ring the ‘third times a charm’ bell leading to a First Amendment violation court case regarding filming in their public lobby, if it must come to that.
We truly don’t know what the outcome of this will be, but one thing is certain- Lehigh Valley Copblock is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to accountability!
Severin to Chief Fogel-
United States v. Jenkins, Whren v. United States, both state that what occurred to me on the night of the 21ts was a crime on the officers part. Upon review of this and the video I have decided to pursue action against your department. Taking the inadvisable and illegal action of filing frivolous charges against a known national reporter on police misconduct was out of line to say the least. The Supreme Court has ruled that an officer can held PERSONALLY liable for actions like this. I will be filing misconduct charges later today and request you (chief of police) personally take the complaint to prevent it not being taken into the officers file. You Mr. Fogel cannot make up rules as you go along. The law is quite clear on your duties. You refused to identify the officer from your department that I asked for. Then you told us that we were forbidden to record inside the station which is the entire point of the Supreme Court ruling about being allowed to record officials on the clock. You are in a tax paid for building ran by tax paid employees of the state of Pennsylvanian. My residence outside your town has ZERO bearing on that universal right. Here are the statutes on that feel free to call your district attorney and confirm this: 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5702.
“Thus, a journalist does not need consent to record conversations in public where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Smith v. Commings court of appeals 11th circuit. The first amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property and specifically a right to record matters of public interest.
You can thank your officer for bringing you to my attention. Had he not abused his badge by filing those erroneous charges against me, I would have never even had a second though about your department. This is not my first rodeo and badge abuse is MY JOB to uncover and report on.
I ask for you to call me at my personal phone at 484——- to discuss my complaint against that officer.
The ball is in your court. This can either be over shortly or you can push these issues and be an entire story of abuse for me and my organization. We are national. I simply run the Lehigh Valley chapter. I have yet to run an official story on this but our central news agency is fully aware of what is happening here and what I am doing in case anything should happen to me (harmed/arrested) We were live streaming the whole time as well as back up cameras too as usual and we will be doing the same later.
In case you are unaware “live-streaming” means instantly uploading our interaction to a secure location online. There is no way to confiscate the video as some have tried in the past. Legally speaking you don’t have a leg to stand on here.
Chief Fogel’s Response-
Regarding recording within the police building, I will still be denying you access to actively record within the structure. This is not because of a concern over any misconduct that may be occurring, but simply for safety purposes. I cannot have the interior of a police station recorded and potentially published on-line. This can compromise safety of those inside the building (employees, visitors and detainees), as well as compromise sensitive data, evidence and property of others that may be currently exposed due to current investigations. It would be irresponsible to allow this type of filming. I understand your perspective on recording in public places, however, this has to do with places of general public access, such as open areas outside, public shopping center, public access parking lots, etc. A secure police building is not one of those places.
Chief Scott M Fogel
Lehigh Township Police
1043 Municipal Road
Walnutport, PA 18088
610-760-8800 ext. 116
Severin’s Charges were dropped shortly after.
I am excited to join the CopBlock Network as a blogger. It is an extension of my activism and I hope to be able to add much in the way of accountability through all of my versatile efforts.