Cell phone footage posted to YouTube yesterday appears to show a Santa Barbara police officer knocking a cell phone out of the hands of a bystander filming a downtown arrest. The Police Department has launched an internal investigation into the incident.
At the 4:27 mark in the video, which was taken March 7 at around 10:30 p.m. as officers responded to a large fight at Velvet Jones, Sgt. Eric Beecher takes his own cell phone out of his pocket and appears to start filming the bystander. Beecher approaches the unidentified man, asks his name, and the man’s phone falls to the ground.
In the ensuing dialogue, the bystander accuses Beecher of intentionally swatting the phone from his grasp. Beecher responds that whatever contact took place was an “accident.” Because an internal administrative investigation has begun, said police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood, the department is not at liberty to discuss the specifics of the confrontation.
“However, I want to assure you that we take allegations of misconduct by our personnel very seriously,” said Harwood in an email. “I would encourage anyone who believes that they have been subjected to misconduct by an employee of the Santa Barbara Police Department to make a personnel complaint; it will be investigated.”
Harwood said the department was made aware of the video yesterday when he was contacted by a citizen journalism website called Photography Is Not a Crime. The site advocates for public filming of law enforcement officers.
Attempts to reach the video’s poster, who goes by the name “Santa Barbara Man,” have not been successful. The video’s description claims Beecher “strikes the camera and the man in the head while doing so.”
“Our stance is that videotaping [officers] is not an issue as long as it is being done in a lawful manner and in a lawful location,” Harwood said. That means, for example, the person doing the filming must not trespass or eavesdrop, or do anything to interfere with officers and “increase their concern for safety,” he said.
“If you have two officers struggling to handcuff someone, and someone comes up behind them with an iPhone and interferes, or incites others to interfere, those officers won’t stand idly by,” Harwood said.
Earlier this month, the California Senate approved legislation that clarifies state law and affords protections to people who film police in public, as long as they don’t impede the officers in their official duties and investigations.