East Atlanta Copwatch struggles with police harassment

Over the past couple years, members of East Atlanta Copwatch have been working to monitor police activity in their city. Unsurprisingly, many of the Copwatchers have been harassed and even physically assaulted by camera-shy cops.

Members of East Atlanta Copwatch
Members of East Atlanta Copwatch (Source: AJC.com)
  • In one incident, a group of police officer showed up in a public park to harass Food Not Bombs volunteers who were serving food to the homeless. One of the officer struck a Copwatcher’s camera, grabbed him by the arm, and went on a rant about how being a U.S. citizen gave him the right to walk through the park without being photographed.
  • In another incident, Copwatchers began filming a traffic stop. They were standing on the sidewalk on the side of the street opposite from the stop, but that didn’t stop a cop from aggressively approaching them, grabbing at the videographer’s cell phone, and shoving him back along the sidewalk.
  • In a third incident, a federal officer approached a Copwatcher who was filming a demonstration outside an EPA building and told him that it was illegal to photograph the front of the building. The same officer also claimed that anyone he asked to see ID from was legally obligated to do so.
  • In a fourth incident, two Copwatchers were filming a traffic stop. One of the officers told them what they were doing was illegal and then absurdly accused them of blocking the sidewalk. Another officer who was sitting in his police cruiser pointed his phone at the pair likely for the purposes of taking their picture.
  • In a fifth incident, Copwatcher Marlon Kautz recorded an arrest with a cell phone camera. One of the officer grabbed Kautz’s arm, twisted it behind his back, and stole the phone. When Kautz went to the department retrieve the phone, he found that it had been classified as “evidence.” Anthony Kirkman, the officer who Kautz, him apparently told him that he had to give up the password for the phone so that he could erase the video. How he was planning to use a deleted video as evidence is beyond me. The police finally returned the phone when Kautz contacted an attorney and informed the police that he was suing them. The video had been destroyed.

Anthony Kirkman

Kautz’s lawsuit ended with a settlement earlier this year. Kautz was awarded with $40,000 and the Atlanta Police Department was forced to acknowledge that individuals have the right to record its officers. Don’t be fooled, though; it’s unlikely the settlement will stop Atlanta police officers from continuing to do what they’ve been doing.

The Food Not Bombs group mentioned previously also won a lawsuit against the Atlanta police — all the way back in 2000. Yet, as recent East Atlanta Copwatch videos show, the police are more interested in making life difficult for the homeless than in following the laws they’ve sworn to enforce.

Officer Kirkman, the man who physically assaulted Kautz, stole his property, and destroyed evidence, was only punished with an “oral reprimand” and the money awarded to Kautz came from taxpayers, not Kirkman’s paycheck. As long as police officers are treated with kid gloves and allowed to duck responsibility for their crimes, they have no incentive to change their behavior.


Source: The War on Cameras Map

When I launched the War on Cameras map, I included an entry about Kautz’s lawsuit, but I was unaware of the other incidents. I came across East Atlanta Copwatch’s website last week while working on a map update and filed it away for future reference. Recently I had a chance to improve the marker about Kautz’s lawsuit and add four new markers about E. A. Copwatch using information from the site.

As usual, donations are much appreciated if you’d like to see the War on Cameras map updated regularly. You can donate via PayPal here.

Below I’ve included the full text of the five markers:

Atlanta, GA police harass Copwatchers for filming traffic stop

Two members of East Atlanta Copwatch saw police officer conducting a traffic stop and began recording. One of the officers approached them, told them that what they were doing was illegal, then accused them of blocking the sidewalk, and ordered them to leave. The officer ignored multiple requests to identify himself.

The Copwatchers continued to document the traffic stop and noticed another officer sitting in a police cruiser who pointed his phone at them and appeared to take pictures of them.

The Copwatchers continued recording and were again ordered to leave. They ignored the orders and continued to document the traffic stop.

Sources:

Videos:

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Federal officer harasses Copwatcher for filming EPA building

On March 1st, 2010, members of East Atlanta Copwatch were filming a demonstration by environmentalists outside of the EPA building. During the demonstration, one of the Copwatchers was approached by a federal officer who ordered him not to take pictures of the front of the building.

“Is there a law against that?” the Copwatcher asked.

“Yes, there is,” the officer responded before walking away.

A short time later, the officer walked by again and the Copwatcher him to identify himself. The officer responded by asking for the Copwatchers name. After providing his name, the Copwatcher read the officer’s name off his badge which prompted the officer to demand his ID.

“Am I required to give you ID?” the Copwatcher asked.

“If I ask you to. You asked me to,” the officer taunted before walking away again.

Sources:

 

Videos:

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Atlanta, GA police officer shoves Copwatcher for filming traffic stop

Members of Copwatch began video-recording police officers conduct a traffic stop that ended with two arrests. One of the officers quickly told them that they were not allowed to take pictures and threated to confiscate the camera they were using.

“We’re just observing,” one of the Copwatchers calmly told the officer.

“I don’t care, brother!” the officer shouted. “Don’t take a picture of me!”

The officer grabbed the camera briefly, forced the Copwatchers to back up while covering the lens with his hand, and told them to leave before finally leaving them alone. They continued to record the arrests.

Sources:

 

Videos:

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Georgia State University officer attacks and threatens Copwatcher

On August 25, 2009, members of the group Food Not Bombs were serving food to the homeless at Hurt Park when they were approached by a group of police officers. Members of East Atlanta Copwatch were present and began filming. Several of the officers began demanding that the Copwatchers stop recording. The Copwatchers explained that were just observing and had no intention of interfing with the officers.

Suddenly, one of the police, a George State University officer, moved towards one of the videographers, shouting, “What did I just tell you, man? I’m not playing!” and striking the videographer’s camera.

The videographer asked for the officer’s name and badge number, but the officer repeatedly refused to give it. The videographer continued asking for the officer’s name and badge which prompted the officer to grab him by the arm and jerk him. Finally, the officer identified himself as J. Spears, badge #156.

After identifying himself, Spears went on a brief rant in which he told the videographer over and over that he “could walk through the park.”

“Where did the other officers go?,” the videographer asked, noticing that they had moved on.

The officer left without answering.

Sources:

 

Videos:

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Atlanta, GA police seize Copwatcher’s phone and destroy his footage

In 2010, Marlon Kautz of East Atlanta Copwatch was filming officers Mark Taylor and Anthony Kirkman make an arrest with a cell phone camera. The officers confronted Kauts and ordered him to stop filming. Kautz continued filming and the officers twisted his arm behind his back and seized the phone from him.

When Kautz tried to get the camera back, he disocevered that it had been classified as “evidence.” Kautz said Kirkman demanded to know the password for the phone so that he could delete the video. Kautz refused to give the password and consulted with attorney Gerry Webber. He told Kirkman that he was planning a lawsuit and the officer finally returned the phone, but the video had been corrupted. Kautz said the damage was probably caused by officers removing the battery from the phone.

Kautz filed a lawsuit against the police and was awarded $40,000 in a settlement. As part of the settlement, the police were also forced to acknowledge that individuals have the right to film them.

The officers who took Kautz’s phone received oral reprimands. Sgt. Stephen Zygai also received a reprimand for failing to supervise the officers properly.

Sources:


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