75 Years for Recording Public Officials On Duty!?

UPDATE:  March 2nd, 2012 Judge rules eavesdropping law unconstitutional “A Cook County judge today ruled the state’s controversial eavesdropping law unconstitutional.”

“These people have tried to hide in the shadows. They don’t like being exposed.”
— Michael Allison

Do you know about Michael Allison? You should.

A mechanic and construction worker by profession, 41-year-old Allison just wanted to work on cars he owned that were parked on private property (his mom’s) in southeast Illinois, yet area bureaucrats, citing a local zoning ordinance, demanded that he register or garage each vehicle. Seeing such measures as nothing more than revenue generators, Allison filed suit against the city. They responded not with open conversation but with harassment from their enforcers – those wearing badges.

In a recent phone conversation, Allison noted that though he was caught off-guard the first time they showed-up, he was “ready and documented” their second visit via a digital recorder. He added that at the time his unwelcome guests were fully aware of the recording and didn’t lodge any objections.

Eventually Allison was charged with violating the ordinance and ordered to appear in court. An advocate of transparency, he inquired whether the proceedings would be recorded. Upon learning that it would not be, Allison informed court personnel that he intended to record the proceedings himself.

As he entered the Robinson, IL courtroom on January 13th, 2009, he was immediately approached by the judge who asked if he had a recording device. He replied in the affirmative. The judge then asked if it was turned on. He noted that it was. The judge claimed he had violated her right to privacy and, pointing to an already-opened law book with the statute she claims he violated, informed him that he was under arrest (his first ever) for eavesdropping.

Allison’s recorder was seized. He was held for one hour then released. He was told he’d be re-arrested a week later after a warrant was issued. No elaboration was given despite Allison’s questions. A week passed and he was left unmolested.

Then, five months later, when buying potatoes for his mom at a local grocery store, a man with a badge arrested him on what he claimed was an outstanding warrant stemming from the incident with the judge. When he challenged the arrest (since he hadn’t received the required speedy preliminary hearing within 60days of his first arrest) he was told the first arrest “didn’t count.”

If that’s the case then the seizure of his recorder violated the law since it was done without a warrant, and the content which it contained – Allison’s conversation with the judge and men wearing badges – are what his five charges of eavesdropping are based upon, each of which threatens up to 15-years in a cage.

Allison now faces 75-years in a cage thanks to Tom Wiseman, Crawford Co. state attorney.

As Mark McCoy correctly noted: “That’s up to 75 years in prison for breaking a law Allison did not know existed, and which he violated in the name of protecting himself from what he saw as an injustice.”

On January 13th, 2011 Allison filed a civil suit against the City of Robinson for false arrest and imprisonment. A week before his trial was set to kick-off this past May a pro bono lawyer stepped-up and filed a number of motions, including one that challenged the constitutionality of the eavesdropping statute. The jury was sent home and the judge ordered a continuance to allow for Lisa Madigan, Illinois attorney general, to respond. A hearing date is now scheduled for August 18th.

Along with Maryland, where similar charges against Anthony Graber were dropped and Massachusetts, where a jury recently returned a “not guilty” verdict for myself and Ademo, Illinois has the most-draconian legislation used to target individuals from documenting their interactions with those who work for the government. This clear double-standard caused this quote by Max Stirner to come to mind: “The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual crime.”

Let’s work to make sure the real criminals are held accountable.

Help Allison on the ground:

Help Allison from afar:

  • Share his story (this post or any related content) with others. Help win in the court of public opinion. The last thing those responsible for Allison’s harassment want is for their actions to become more well-known.
  • Find an attorney to take on his civil case. His case, if you or your lead has access to Pacer, is 11-CV-43-MJR-PMF. Did the judge violate Allison’s right against self-incrimination when she acted in an executive capacity rather than judicial?
  • Contact Tom Wiseman, Crawford Co. state attorney, and tell him to drop the five felonies he’s levied against Allison:
    Crawford County Courthouse
    105 Douglas St.
    Robinson, IL 62454
    phone: 618.546.1505
    fax: 618.544.4912
    email: twiseman@crawfordcountrycentral.com

For more:
Chicago State’s Attorney Lets Bad Cops Slide, Prosecutes Citizens Who Record Them
by Radley Balko at HuffingtonPost.com
Valley Man Faces 75 Years In Prison For Recording Law Enforcement by Patrick Fazio at MyWabashValley.com
The War on Cameras by Radley Balko at Reason.com

This email was sent to the email address listed for Tom Wiseman by Roger Beckwith. Roger later sent the email to CopBlock, noting that the email bounced-back. As a better email address has yet to be located, it’s shared here in case Wiseman visits the page. Also, so others can read another perspective.

Hi Tom,

There must be something terribly wrong with you, to want to pursue those horrific unconstitutional charges against Michael Allison. I cannot imagine a healthy, mentally sound “professional” like yourself, attempting to treat another law abiding human being with such utter contempt in trying to deny him his freedom for such a disgusting amount of time. I am just wondering if you were picked on as a child, or if some other terrible event happened to you in your childhood, to make you desire to take another man’s freedom from him, for doing nothing more than trying to defend himself against government abuse. It has been upheld in courtroom after courtroom, that citizens have a right to record, and film, public officials. The fact that you are abusing this mans rights, speaks volumes regarding just WHY, we need to try to protect ourselves from government “authorities” in a lawful manner. When the state becomes a lawbreaker, what are we to do to defend ourselves. As Mahatma Gandhi, once said, ‎”Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state becomes lawless or corrupt”. I pray that you see the light, and do the right thing regarding Mr. Allison. I am concerned for your soul.

Roger Beckwith

Pete Eyre

Pete Eyre is co-founder of CopBlock.org. As an advocate of peaceful, consensual interactions, he seeks to inject a message of complete liberty and self-government into the conversation of police accountability. Eyre went to undergrad and grad school for law enforcement, then spent time in DC as an intern at the Cato Institute, a Koch Fellow at the Drug Policy Alliance, Directer of Campus Outreach at the Institute for Humane Studies, Crasher-in-Chief at Bureaucrash, and as a contractor for the Future of Freedom Foundation. In 2009 he left the belly of the beast and hit the road with Motorhome Diaries and later co-founded Liberty On Tour. He spent time in New Hampshire home, and was involved with Free Keene, the Free State Project and The Daily Decrypt.