Why I Document, Why I Record, and Why I Stand Up For My Rights
Joseph G. shared the following story about his experience with the Swatara Township Police, specifically Jason Umberger, via CopBlock.org’s ‘submit‘ tab.
Let’s go to the start of this mess: Thursday June 8, 2006. The day before, my older brother stopped by to visit me from Allentown. We had fun, messed around a bit, and woke up the next day. We decided to get some good soup before he left, so we went to Pho Vietnam. We ate some excellent soup, bought some pocky on my urging, and started to head back home. We didn’t get very far. Traffic was jammed up tight after a bit, and then we noted emergency vehicles rushing past. We got farther ahead in traffic, and saw a wreck right in front of us.
Well, my brother had his camera that day. I had my little Creative Zen Micro, which had a microphone for taking notes and such. We swung into a parking lot and started taking some photos and I started talking to people to find out what they knew. I was recording the whole bit.
I noticed an official talking to my brother, so I walked over to see what was going on. The official wanted his license, and he asked what he needed it for. After the officer learned that my brother was not with the press, he got angry and kept demanding his ID. My brother asked if he was being detained; the answer was no, so he walked away. The yellow barrier tape was then put up. My brother joined the general crowd and continued taking photos. The news reporters were there recording video and taking pictures as well.
As I was talking to three employees who worked near the accident site, I noticed two cops (one in uniform) standing very close to my brother with very angry looks. I also saw my brother was flexing one of his hands by his side, trying to keep calm.
I walked over still holding the Zen, which was still recording. My brother was being told he couldn’t take photos and needed to leave. My brother questioned the officers about the reporters and was told they understand the respect needed in the situation.
The officers in question started to demand ID and threatened to falsify charges to bring against us, such as physical interference when we were never even on the road, and were even past the sidewalk. They also cursed at us a few times.
Suddenly, Capt. Jason Umberger of Swatera Township saw my MP3 player. “Are you recording this?!” he asked me in a cross tone.
“Yes…”, I said.
“That’s a federal offense!” he said. He then said, “Give me that!” and proceeded to YANK my left arm to hold it in place and try to take the device from me.
I pulled away from him and said, “Sir, unless you are arresting me, or charging or detaining me, please don’t touch me.”
He said, “Okay, that’s it,” took my left arm, yanked it back, and pinned it at my side. At that point, I quickly hit the button to stop and save the recording, fearful the police would cancel or delete it. They saw that as trying to delete the recording and tampering with evidence. Detective Timothy Shatto took my other arm and cuffed me. I was not told I was being arrested until I was cuffed. After I was cuffed, we were asked to move down to the next parking lot, which I did without objecting. I was told by another officer while cuffed on the sidewalk that I was “just another punk-ass teenager, and now [I was] going to learn a lesson in civics in the real world.” I was frisked, put into an unmarked car, and driven off. While driving, I moved my hands at one point because the cuffs were digging into my skin. Suddenly, Detective Timothy Shatto pulled over, threw open my door, and proceeded to frisk me again, asking if I had dumped anything inside the car.
At the station, I was told I would not be allowed to see my parents, and wouldn’t see them the rest of the day. I was told I would stay overnight in a holding cell. One officer remarked that if I’d never been inside Dauphin County Prison, I was going to soon. When told I didn’t know my Social Security Number off-hand, an officer said I was “yanking his chain.”
All through this, I remained respectful towards the officers. I did not curse, yell, or give them any reason to be upset with me. I was charged with “intercepting oral communications,” resisting arrest, and tampering with evidence.
In PA, it is legal to record in situations when there is no expectation of privacy… such as the side of a road. I also made no attempt to be covert about my recording.
Back then, my family could not handle the stress. I ended up pleading down to disorderly conduct, paid a fine, and the audio was deleted. However, the photos were not.
Umberger has since been promoted to Chief of the force.
599 Eisenhower Boulevard
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17111
For police matters that are non-emergency, dial 717.558.6900