Chowchilla State Prison Fails First Amendment Audit

The following was submitted by CopBlock Network Contributor Nasty Nathanial, after a successful First Amendment audit which I was personally a part of.

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Date of Incident: August 28, 2016
Location: Valley State Prison, 21633 Avenue 24 Chowchilla, California 93610
Phone: (559) 665-6100

I recently returned from Fresno, where I spent a night of successful Cop Blocking and First Amendment Auditing all rolled into one. You know one of the reasons that I really enjoy spending time in Fresno is that I get hang out with one of my best friends and fellow Cop Blocker, Brian Sumner. As all of you seasoned Cop Blockers know, Brian Sumner is a legend in the Cop Block community and I have much respect for him.

The original plan was to cruise around Fresno and do some Cop Blocking there, but being this was the first time I’ve gotten to spend time with my friend since I left for the Philippines last February, I thought maybe we should do something different. My suggestion was to cruise out to Chowchilla, which is about forty minutes north of Fresno, and do a First Amendment Audit of the state prison there.

Let me take a moment to talk about First Amendment Audits. Some of you may not realize what this is, so I will explain. A First Amendment Audit is where you go and film a public building, such as a police station, a correctional facility, a courthouse, or even a nuclear power plant. (Check out my 1st Amendment Audit, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant video.) The purpose of these audits is to see whether the folks that work at these facilities respect an individual’s right to film in public. Based on the response that you get will determine whether the audit was a Pass or a Fail. Just as Brian Sumner had inspired me to start Cop Blocking, it was the California Guardian who inspired me to start doing First Amendment Audits.

So Brian and I jumped into the Cop Block Mobile, which is my little Fiat, and headed out to Chowchilla. There are actually two prisons there. One is Valley State Prison and the other one, which is located directly across the street, is the Central California Women’s Facility, which houses California’s women’s death row. I know this because I used to correspond with a woman on death row and had visited her a handful of times there. But that is another story entirely.

The reason Brian and I chose to do our First Amendment Audit at Valley State Prison is because, unlike the women’s facility, Valley State Prison has a clear view from the road, which makes it good for filming and photographing. We were actually able to pick out a really good location on the western edge of the prison with a clear view of the prison. You can see this in the opening scene of my video. Brian was also able to take some really amazing nighttime photographs of the prison in which he captured an array of artistic images due to his great skill as a photographer.

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Everything was going fine until we decided to make our way to the front gate of the prison. As Brian explains in the video, up to that point nobody from the prison had made contact with us and we had been free to film and photograph. All that changed once we got to the front gate.

Within’ minutes, a correctional officer from the prison’s outside mobile patrol unit was at the entrance to the prison and was shinning his flashlight in our eyes. Even after Brian had politely requested that he not shine his light in our direction due to the discomfort it caused him after having eye surgery, this correctional officer continued to do so.

This is where it starts to get really interesting. At first the correctional officer informed us that we couldn’t film on state property and claimed that the dirt we were standing on next to the road was state property. This I know is a bunch of bull shit being that the boundary line fence was a few feet behind us and there is a sign that states such. Even so, we re-positioned ourselves and our gear onto the shoulder of the road. This apparently didn’t satisfy him as he continued to tell us that we couldn’t film. Please keep in mind that Brian and I were both standing across the road from the entrance to the prison and at no time during this audit did we ever make it over to the other side of the road.

So after re-positioning ourselves onto the road this correctional officer continued to claim that we couldn’t do what we were doing and asked if we had permission to film on state property, to which Brian pointed out that the correctional officer had just acknowledged the fact that the road was not state property. This was followed by a brief period of silence after which this ignoramus of a correctional officer continued to question us about why we were there. When Brian brought up the First Amendment and how it gives people the right to film in public, this ignoramus threatened to call the local police on us. When Brian asked if there was a law we were breaking the response he got was that we were breaking “Prison Law.” What the Hell is prison law?

Here’s the thing. Correctional Officers have limited policing powers meaning that their authority does not extend beyond the prison gate. Brian and I were standing on a public road excising our First Amendment Right to film in public and the only thing that this ignoramus can do is accuse us violating prison law. Can anybody explain to me what prison law is and how it applies to private citizens? If so, please do so in your comments.

Eventually this ignoramus gave up and left. But that was not the end of this pointless harassment. His departure was followed with the arrival of another ignoramus. Only this guy seemed to use a different approach when trying to get us to leave. According to this ignoramus, it was not safe for us to be there because there were inmates out. Inmates out? Does this mean that officials at Valley State Prison lets inmates roam around freely after hours? Maybe they are allowed to go into the city of Chowchilla and drink it up at the local watering hole. But of course be back by 1:00 am boys. If not, what does he mean by there are “inmates out”?

Eventually he drove off, but his harassment of us didn’t end there. Even as me and Brian were making our way back to the CopBlockmobile this ignoramus turned creep began following us. He wouldn’t answer questions. He would just follow us. A few times Brian attempted to make contact with him in an attempt to find out why he felt the need to follow us around in the middle of the night. But every time we would get close he’d just drive off only to turn around and resume his following us. Isn’t this considered stalking?

Anyways, finally Brian and I decided it was time to leave. Not because we were told we had to leave, but because we had accomplished what we set out to accomplish. Plus we were tired and hungry. So I’ll wrap this up saying that I feel that the California Department Of Corrections and Rehabilitation earned themselves a big FAIL that night. What do you all think? Please say so in your comments bellow. Thanks for reading and until next time may the force be with you. Happy trails.

Brian’s Angle.

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Brian Sumner

is an Activist, Journalist and Photographer from the Fresno area who has taken a special interest in the "Police State". He facilitates a watchdog group called the Fresno Liberty Movement, advocates filming the police and alternatives to state controlled protection services. He also served in the U.S Army from Oct. 08' thru Mar. 12' with a tour in Iraq in 2010. Most recently he participated in the CopBlock Network's #MACtour Check out more of my writing at: The Fresno People's Media & Follow me on Social media: Facebook YouTube