Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Plain Clothes Officer Pulls Gun on Man for Speeding; Police Threaten to Jail Him for Recording the Incident

Whatever you do, don’t speed to work in Maryland. Apparently, the cops in that state believe the appropriate way to handle speeding is to use an unmarked car with no lights or sirens to cut off the speeder, forcing them to stop, then jump out the car with no uniform or badge and fail to identify them self while he pulls out his gun and orders you off your vehicle. That’s what happened to Anthony Graber, who admitted to speeding. He was cited for doing 80 MPH on the highway. Fortunately for us, the story gets more interesting.

Anthony was riding with a video camera attached to his helmet to record his venture. It was still recording when it caught the cop acting like a thug.

The full video...

The incident itself raises some interesting questions. First of all, the officer here comes off as an impulsive thug, not the image we should expect of our law enforcement officers. Second, as a concealed pistol license holder, I would probably interpret this officers actions as those of a car jacker or road raging murderer. If this happened to me or someone else who was carrying, it might have resulted in the officer and/or the motorist being shot. Not wise, officer.

But it gets worse…

A month after this incident cops found the video Anthony posted on youtube. Apparently furious that their behavior was exposed, they showed up to his home with a warrant for his arrest for felony recording without consent from the other party. Maryland is a two-party consent state for audio recording, but that is usually never upheld when there is no reasonable expectation of privacy – such as on the side of a busy road during a traffic stop. They also confiscated his cameras and computers. Anthony now faces five years in prison, but it seems likely the case will simply be thrown out. We’ll see. I think Anthony might be looking at a fat paycheck at the end of this.

After spending 26 hours in the Baltimore County Jail, Anthony Graber still doesn’t understand what he did wrong.

Sure, the 24-year-old man admits to speeding on his motorcycle, but does that merit having a plainclothes cop pull a gun on him?

Does that merit six state troopers raiding his parents’ home and seizing four computers at the crack of dawn?

Does that merit getting charged with a felony and threatened with five years in prison?

Of course it doesn’t

This is nothing but an obscene case of police intimidation. A Constitutional violation against a man who has served six years in the Air National Guard and who has never been arrested before.

A knee-jerk reaction from the Maryland State Police after Graber posted the video of the cop pulling a gun on him on Youtube (video is below).

That cop’s name is Joseph David Uhler, in case you were wondering. He has no business wearing a badge.

So how come he’s not being punished?

Well, we already know that answer. He’s above the law. They are above the law. The Maryland State Police Department, that is.

Why else would a judge sign a search warrant, allowing them to raid Graber’s parents home at 6:45 a.m. on a weekday, detaining his entire family for 90 minutes, forbidding his mother from going to work and younger sister from going to school while they rummaged through the family’s personal belongings?

And that judge’s name?

That’s a secret.

“There is no signature from the judge on the paperwork,” Graber said in an exclusive Photography is Not a Crime interview Thursday night, just hours after he was released from jail.

“They told me they don’t want you to know who the judge is because of privacy.

Is this America? Where cops are allowed to violate your Fourth Amendment rights – not to mention your First Amendment right to film them – on the approval of some secretive judge?

Well maybe not all judges agree.

“The judge who released me looked at the paperwork and said she didn’t see where I violated the wiretapping law.”

Ah yes, the wiretapping charge. That old standby that cops use when you happen to videotape them in public while they are on duty when they have absolutely no expectation of privacy.

Sure, the First Amendment supposedly allows us to photograph police in public. Numerous court rulings have determined that.

But now cops have turned to irrelevant wire-tapping charges to crack down against those who video them in public.

Those laws are designed to protect people whose voices are recorded in telephone calls. You know, when you actually have an expectation of privacy.

Fortunately, most judges end up throwing these charges out of court when the cops don’t have an expectation of privacy.

The case against Graber began on March 5 when he was speeding on his 2008 Honda CBR 1000RR motorcycle on Interstate 95. He had a video camera strapped to his helmet and was filming the ride.

He sped past Uhler’s unmarked car, who claimed he was popping a wheelie while traveling 100 mph.

And Uhler was only “visually estimating” his speed. He did not have a radar gun, which usually means it wouldn’t stand up in court.

Graber also admits to speeding past a marked car. However, he never heard any sirens behind him and even at one point in the video where Graber looks back, the only car behind him is Uhler’s unmarked car with no lights.

That was when Graber was already exiting the interstate. When he came to a complete stop behind the other cars at the exit, Uhler cut him off and hopped out of his car with a gun drawn, never flashing a badge and not identifying himself as an officer until several seconds later.

Uhler never mentioned that he pulled out his gun in his report.

But he did mention that he spotted “a strange looking object on the operator’s helmet that was later realized to be a video camera.”

And he did mention that he cited Graber a single citation for traveling 80 mph in a 65 mph zone.

So what’s the problem?

Well, Graber decided to post the video on Youtube, which made Uhler look like a thug.

In fact, if you look at the video, you’ll notice Uhler glance at the marked unit behind Graber and moved his gun behind him, as if trying to hide it from the other officer, before tucking it back into his pocket.

After all, an officer is only supposed to pull out his gun if he believes his life is in danger. Surely, that doesn’t happen with every traffic stop. Does it?

Ten days later, Uhler discovered that Graber posted the video online. Two videos. A longer one without audio and a shorter one with audio.

That prompted Uhler to issue an arrest warrant against Graber, citing that “Graber did not inform Tfc. Uhler that he was recording him by video or audio, thus violating criminal law 10-402(b).”

He also tacked on the charges of “reckless driving” and “negligent driving” to the arrest warrant.

And then six cops raided his parent’s home where Graber is living early one morning.

“They spent 90 minutes there,” he said.

“My mom had to go to work and they wouldn’t let her. My sister had to go to school and they wouldn’t let her.

“I just had gall bladder surgery and had bandages on my stomach.”

In fact, after a phone call to the commissioner, that was the only reason they didn’t arrest him on the spot. They told him he had to turn himself in when he got better, which he did.

“I just wanted to do the right thing,” he said.

When he showed up to the jail, they set his bond at $15,000, which is a little extravagant considering there is a maximum $10,000 fine for a wiretapping conviction.

He spent 26 hours in jail before he was released upon his own recognizance. The judge who released him took one look at the report and said that it didn’t appear he violated the wiretapping law.

“She said, ‘I have no idea why you’re charged with this’,” he said.

In fact, Maryland requires there to be an expectation of privacy in order to make that charge valid, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State courts interpreted laws to protect communications only when parties have a reasonable expectation of privacy

The incident has left Graber with a serious distrust of police.

“I’m now afraid of the police. Afraid of what they can do to me. I’ve never been arrested in my life before this,” he said.

He is now making arrangements to sell his motorcycle because he doesn’t feel comfortable riding it anymore.

And he is waiting for his preliminary trial to see if prosecutors will decide to pursue this case.

And as for Uhler, well he’s still roaming free to terrorize the citizens. Just as he did in Graber’s video.

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