"Driving While Black" on Mill Avenue? Tempe Cops Deny Man's Right to Record Traffic Stop (Video)
To judge from a recent video of an encounter with a black motorist, it looks like some Tempe cops could use a refresher course in the First Amendment.
The video was shot by 29-year-old Arizona resident Anderson Jean-Louis, after he was stopped by Tempe bike cops on the evening of February 13, allegedly because he was playing his music too loud on the car stereo of his Audi A8L.
As you can see above, the video shows Tempe officers Lara Camberg and Martin Marchant questioning Jean-Louis as he sits on a curb after exiting his vehicle.
Anderson Jean-Louis, who says he's a victim of "driving while black" in Tempe
While Camberg tries to figure out Jean-Louis' Haitian surname, Jean-Louis starts taping the stop with his iPhone.
As soon as Camberg realizes this, she snatches the phone out of his hand. Jean-Louis then produces another iPhone and starts filming again, with Camberg quickly grabbing that phone as well.
At this point, according to both the audio of the second recording and the police report of the incident, Camberg informs Jean-Louis that he is being detained.
Jean-Louis says he was then placed in handcuffs and kept that way for about 25 minutes.
Ultimately, he was cited with playing loud music, resisting/interfering with police, and, laughably, not producing his driver's license.
You know, the same license Camberg is fumbling with in the video.
"I look at this like a police attack on a regular citizen," Jean-Louis told me during an interview for this article.
"How are you going to have my driver's license, and then charge me with not giving you a driver's license?" he wondered aloud. "How are you going to charge me with resisting arrest, when I didn't fight with you when you placed me in handcuffs?"
Jean-Louis admits that he was playing music with his windows down and his sun roof open when approached by the bike cops.
He also notes that this was between 9:30 and 10 p.m. on a Friday, the night before Valentine's Day, at Mill Avenue and Fifth Street, the epicenter of the college town's vibrant bar scene, with music blaring from nearby clubs.
Jean-Louis said things quickly went south when Marchant grabbed his wrist while Jean-Louis was still in the car.
After Marchant let go, Jean-Louis pulled over and got out of the car. He said wanted to stand, but Marchant put hands on him, forcing him to sit on the curb.
Which is when the incident with Jean-Louis' iPhone occurred.
"[Officer Camberg] slapped the phone out of my hand," he recalled. "I never seen anything like this before, you know? That's kinda crazy."
Jean-Louis claims Marchant and Camberg searched his vehicle without his permission while he was handcuffed.
At one point, he says there were five other officers milling about the stop.
"I'm 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, and you've got seven guys trying to talk to me?" he asks, rhetorically.
He believes that race played a role in how he was treated by Tempe officers.
"I call this 'driving while black,'" Jean-Louis said.
Tempe Police Department spokesman Mike Pooley tells me that the department has seen the video and is investigating Jean-Louis' complaints.
"There is an internal investigation going on," Pooley said. "We were made aware of it the night it happened, and we immediately began looking into it."
Asked about the department's policy toward people videotaping traffic stops, Pooley said officers are regularly reminded through internal memos that people have that right.
"We are very aware that people are allowed to videotape us," he said.
What about Jean-Louis' charge that his stop is an example of "driving while black"?
Pooley replied that the Tempe PD expects its officers to "treat everybody fairly," and if that doesn't happen, "we want people to tell us so we can look into it."
Despite its reputation as a lefty bastion, Tempe lately has acquired its share of bruises when it comes to race relations.
Recently, an Arizona State University professor and his mixed-race family have been targeted by neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups over his course on critical race theory, partly titled "the Problem of Whiteness."
Also, video of the arrest last year of African-American ASU professor Ersula Ore by ASU's campus police went viral, causing outrage from supporters both of Ore and of the white cop who arrested her, Stewart Ferrin.
Ferrin has since resigned from ASU's police department.
Finally, according to a USA Today report on the nationwide disparity in arrest rates between blacks and non-blacks, Tempe's arrest-rate disparity exceeds that of Ferguson, Missouri, which is the subject of a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Justice, detailing the "toxic environment" created by the way Ferguson's mostly white police force treats its mostly African-American citizenry.
According to the last census, less than 6 percent of Tempe residents are black.
Yet, the two-year review of FBI data by USA Today, shows that blacks in Tempe are arrested at 3.4 times the rate of non-blacks.
As with Jean-Louis, many of those arrests are of folks just passing through, as opposed to residents.
Still, compare Tempe to Ferguson, which is 67 percent black, and has an arrest rate for blacks 2.8 times that of non-blacks.
Tempe is by no means an outlier, either for the U.S. or for Arizona. The problem is even worse in Scottsdale, for instance, where the police department arrests blacks at a rate of 6.3 times that of non-whites.
The USA Today report noted that, "At least 70 departments scattered from Connecticut to California arrested black people at a rate 10 times higher than people who are not black."
Even if you dismiss race as an issue in this incident, Officer Camberg's decision to summarily deny Jean-Louis his right to film the encounter is disturbing.
Especially since, in her report of the incident, Camberg writes that two of the officers present at the scene were audio-taping the encounter with Jean-Louis.
Camberg's report states that Jean-Louis "thrust his phone toward my face," and that she told him he could not do this because of "officer safety," ultimately taking the phone from him.
Camberg writes that after she took the second iPhone from Jean-Louis, she informed him that he was being detained. Jean-Louis then was placed in handcuffs.
Her report indicates that both officers grabbed Jean-Louis' wrists at different points during the stop, supposedly to ensure his compliance with their commands.
Jean-Louis believes this was unfair and unnecessary.
"When you re having a conversation with somebody, you shouldn't be getting physical," he said. "But I guess when you have a 'costume' like they do, they can get physical with you. But if you get physical like that with them, they would charge you with aggravated assault and all that stuff."
One thing police should not be able to do is curtail the public from recording their activities.
Contacted for this story, Victoria Lopez, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona, confirmed that people can record traffic stops, even if they are the ones being stopped.
"There is the First Amendment right to video-record officers in public places," she told me. "People who are being questioned by police...can also then record that event."
"Police officers conduct is part of what happens in the public sphere. The public should have the right to examine and scrutinize what police officers and police departments are doing in our community."
Maybe Lopez can teach a remedial course in the First Amendment for Camberg, et al.
And while she's at it, throw in a lesson or two on the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, just to be on the safe side.
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