Mental Health Call Prompts Confrontation With Photographer

Let me start by saying that this story is not one of officers violently violating a citizen’s rights.  There is no shootout or anyone being beaten to a pulp by out of control police officers.  I write this one to hopefully facilitate an open debate among the readers about morality versus rights.  My hope is that everyone can learn something on both sides.

The Battousai has been hard at work keeping officers in Texas accountable with his camera and knowledge.  The first video in this story is a little controversial and could generate some good debate over whether the photographer should have complied with the request of the officer or not.  I will begin by breaking down the events of the video and then offer up my feelings of what went down.  Part two of the video will be at the end of the story.

On September 29, 2015, Battousai was traveling around Arlington when he noticed several police cars and a group of officers standing around a man seated on the curb.  At the onset, he was unaware of what was going on and turned on his camera for accountability purposes.  Early on, you can hear that the conversation between the cops and the man on the curb appears to be about a mental health issue.

He decides to continue recording once he realizes that this is a mental health call.  In the video he states that just five months earlier that a man by the name of Johnathan Paul died in custody after being arrested.  Batt decided to continue recording for this guy’s protection.  He kept his distance and in no way injected himself into the situation or interfered with the officers present.

Moments after he began filming the scene, a sergeant crosses the street and approaches the photographer.  The officer is polite at first by saying, “I can appreciate why you’re here and what you’re doing, I don’t have a problem with that.  But what we have going on here is kind of private with this guy.  He’s talking about some mental health issues.”  The officer was not throwing his authority around and appeared to be making the request for Battousai to move further away as a man rather than an officer.

He then asks the photographer to move down the street, but that he could still record.  He expressed that he was concerned about the conversation being heard on camera.  Batt replies that he is fine where he is and continues to record.  The officer and Battousai continue to exchange words for a few moments before the officer then pulls out his flashlight and begins shining it into the lens of the camera in a clear attempt to interfere with the filming.

After some time, they decide to move the man to a patrol car and that’s where the video ends.

I have to admit that I’m pretty torn over this video.  Battousai was obviously concerned for the safety of the guy surrounded by these officers.  I do not believe his intent was to get into a confrontation with the officers while filming.  I also do not believe that the Sgt. had any ill intent when he approached Battousai.  He was calm and professional when he approached him about his concerns about the subject’s privacy.  I think he went overboard when he began shining his flashlight into the lens of the camera and putting his hands up to block the shot.

What we have here is a question about whether you should do something even though you have the right to do it.  What I can see in the video is that the officers on scene were all standing around the subject in a rather relaxed posture and did not seem to be aggressive towards the guy on the curb.  The scene appeared to be rather calm.

With that being said, keep in mind that the situation could have flipped at the blink of an eye and could have escalated to a physical confrontation at any time.  One only has to search for news stories online concerning the treatment that many mentally ill people receive from the police to see that.  I believe that those stories are the reason that Battousai was unwilling to move from where he was.  Those stories of abuse of the mentally ill are one of many catalysts for the growing mistrust of the police when dealing with these people in need of help for their mental health issues.

I am not faulting Battousai in his decision to stay put and continue recording from where he was, that was his right to do so.  I myself would have probably moved a little to placate the Sgt., but would have continued recording for the guy’s protection.  The Sgt. probably deviated from departmental policy by interfering with the filming in the way that he did, but I do not believe his intentions were with malice.

I want officers to use discretion when dealing with situations.  I want officers to walk that fine line of operating within the confines of the law, but be able to use their hearts at times to make the right decisions.  There is a saying that comes to mind as I sit here writing this, “The mind of a slave asks, is it legal?   The mind of a free man asks, is it right?”  I believe in that saying and always keep it in the back of my mind when making decisions and I can’t fault either side for their actions during the first video as both felt they were doing what they felt was right.  I’m sure the Sgt. was quite aware that he was breaking departmental policy about interfering with the filming of them by a citizen, but I also felt he was using his heart when he asked the photographer to move down the street.  Both sides have their own merit in this situation up this point.

In part two of the video, things heat up a little bit as emotions run high for Battousai and the officers.  Batt noticed that the officers moved the subject to another location and he decided to move there to continue documenting for the safety of the guy that was the subject of the call.  Things kind of unravel at this point as the Sgt approaches Battousai and tells him that he is now being detained.  Voices are raised by him and the Sgt. during this exchange.  Battousai stands his ground and walks away from the Sgt.

This is where the Sgt. stepped over that fine line by attempting an illegal detention of the photographer.  He let those emotions get the better of him and he escalated the situation rather than just make sure that the photographer did not interfere with the paramedics, which he did not.  In the second video, I do have an issue with the Sergeant’s actions compared to how he behaved during the first video.

The Sgt. brings HIPAA into the conversation and this is where he is either totally ignorant of HIPAA or is trying to misstate what HIPAA really covers.

I have nothing but respect for The Battousai and what he does when he goes out to film the police.  He is always courteous and professional when interacting with the police.  I may have handled this situation differently, but I have to respect that he did what he thought was right given the situation seeing as how he didn’t do anything to put anyone in harms way or to interfere with the officers.

What do you all say?  Was either side really in the wrong during this call?  Should Battousai have moved down the street or do you feel he was right for staying where he was?  Keep in mind that the subject never displayed anything that would have been seen as being bothered by Battousai’s presence.  Even though the subject was in public, did he have a right to privacy considering the reason for the call could have been a source of some embarrassment due to the nature of the call?  Tell us how you feel about this in the comment section.

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