An encounter that started between two city police officers and a self-described “First Amendment auditor” in the lobby of Santa Barbara’s downtown library left the auditor — John Paul Olsen Jr. of North Hollywood — on the ground outside and bleeding. After a video of the event — which took place Monday afternoon — was posted online, the police department found itself overwhelmed by “an inundation” of complaints, said department spokesperson Anthony Wagner, “99.9 of which came from out of state.”
Olsen runs a YouTube channel called “Johnny 5-0,” which depicts confrontations between Olsen and various law enforcement officials over his right to film. Olsen’s website attracts enough traffic to sell ads. Olsen was filming inside the Santa Barbara Central Library for about an hour before being confronted by Officers Hove and Ortega, who told him he had to stop filming or face arrest.
Olsen insisted that as a freelance journalist, he had a right to film to gather content for a news story. Department spokesperson Wagner stated that public libraries — like courthouses — offer a “limited forum” for such filming because library patrons are afforded privacy rights that only they — or the library director — can waive. Libraries, it turns out, have become a target throughout the country for First Amendment auditors, who use them as a venue to test the limits of their rights. Critics suggest they’re seeking to provoke cops in order to sell ads.
In this instance, Santa Barbara’s library director insisted that Olsen stop filming. When confronted by Hove, Olsen initially insisted on his rights to film. Hove then pulled out handcuffs, held Olsen by the back of his shirt, and marched Olsen outside. “I’m leaving,” Olsen said. Once out of the library, Olsen added, “Fuck off.”
At that point, the video shows Hove moving toward Olsen. Ortega tells Olsen, “Let go of the camera,” after which Olsen’s camera tumbles to the ground, as, presumably, does Olsen. Moments later, a woman’s voice can be heard to say, “Oh my gosh, he’s bleeding.”
Olsen was taken to County Jail and booked on two misdemeanor charges, resisting arrest and impeding an officer in the line of duty. Wagner declined to discuss details of the verbal and physical exchange, stating those are the subject of an ongoing internal investigation. “It would be premature and irresponsible to speculate until we have the results of that investigation,” he said.
The video, titled “ILLEGALLY ARRESTED SANTA BARBARA LIBRARY,” can be seen at youtube.com/watch?v=tOgQzKm8Qtg.