by Adrian Wyllie
TARPON SPRINGS, FLORIDA – William Kilgore, a student at St. Petersburg College, commonly engages in a practice known as “cop watching,” which entails video recording police officers as they interact with citizens in public, for example during traffic stops.
On Saturday, January 15, 2011, Kilgore and his friend Thomas Frain, a student at USF, were doing just that as Tarpon Springs police officers stopped a vehicle on E. Tarpon Avenue in what appeared initially to be a routine traffic stop. Kilgore filmed the encounter from a public space about 100 feet away from the officers.
When officers searched the unidentified suspect’s vehicle, they found a controlled substance and arrested the driver on a felony possession charge. After TSPD had the suspect in custody, and the incident appeared to be over, Kilgore began to put away his camera. But that’s when events took a strange turn.
Kilgore and Frain were approached by TSPD officer Brian Switala and another officer, who demanded that Kilgore surrender his camera. The officers claimed that the recording was now evidence in a felony investigation, and the officers believed they had justification to seize it.
Kilgore, believing that he had protection under both the First and Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, refused to turn over the camera.“I knew they can’t just seize my property,” said Kilgore,
At that point, Officer Switala placed Kilgore under arrest, charging him with violating Florida Statute 843.02: Obstruction, resisting officer without violence, a first degree misdemeanor.
As Kilgore was being handcuffed, Frain took out his cell phone and began videotaping the arrest. At that point, the officers also seized Frain’s cell phone as “evidence” however, they did not arrest him.
In an interview with the 1787 Network, Captain Jeffrey Young of the TSPD claimed that officers were justified in seizing the cell phones from both men, along with Kilgore’s video camera. Young also said that Kilgore’s arrest was justified. He claimed that the officers could seize the evidence to prevent Kilgore and Frain from leaving the area and destroying the evidence.
Young said that the officers did not need a warrant to seize the camera and cell phones, but they will acquire a warrant in order to view the recordings.
However, local defense attorney Kevin Hayslett had a different view.“This is absurd,” said Hayslett.
Hayslett argued that F.S. 843.02 did not apply in the Kilgore incident, which applies only to cases where the officers were impeded in their duties. Since Kilgore and Frain were roughly 100 feet away, and only filming the arrest, they were in no way obstructing the officers.
Hayslett also pointed out that if police officers had the right to seize recording devices at will, then they could seize television news cameras or business surveillance cameras at without permission whenever those cameras recorded evidence in a felony. He said that police must obtain a warrant or subpoena to seize property or compel witness testimony.
Kilgore has been released from jail on $150 bond. His camera and cell phone, along with Frain’s cell phone, are being held by TSPD as evidence. http://www.wtsp.com/news/mostpop/story.aspx...