Occurring recently in an area of Los Angeles County called South Gate, 34-year-old teacher Beatriz Paez was assaulted by an unnamed U.S. Marshal while she was attempting to film a federal law enforcement operation related to a local biker gang. Captured by a mobile smartphone camera from a vantage point across the street, Paez was filming the police with her Samsung smartphone and speaking to a nearby officer when a deputy U.S. Marshal started approaching.
As Paez is stepping away from the scene, the deputy U.S. Marshal lunges at Paez and wrestles away her smartphone. Paez is heard screaming “Oh! No! Don’t do that!” during the scuffle. He then smashes the smartphone on the sidewalk, stomps on the mobile device and kicks the broken phone towards Paez. Of course, the law enforcement agent was unaware that a second camera captured the incident on digital video. Assuming Paez was also taking video at the time, she may have an additional digital file of the incident from her perspective, assuming the file can be recovered from the broken phone.
Releasing a statement about the incident to the L.A. Times, a representative for the U.S. Marshal’s service said “The U.S. Marshals Service is aware of video footage of an incident that took place Sunday in Los Angeles County involving a Deputy U.S. Marshal. The agency is currently reviewing the incident.” The video of the incident was uploaded to YouTube on Sunday and has been viewed more than one million times over the last three days.
According to Paez’s account of the incident, the law enforcement officers claimed that she was interfering with the investigation. Of course, that’s the main legal reason that a police officer can claim when attempting to halt someone from filming. Otherwise, it’s completely legal to film the police on all 50 states according to U.S. courts. In turn, Paez responded by stating that she was on a public sidewalk and had the right to film the officers.
Yesterday, the ACLU of Southern California released a statement regarding the incident which read “There is no situation in which an officer can intentionally grab and destroy a camera being used to lawfully record law enforcement. The officer’s conduct is a blatant and deliberate violation of the Constitution and his duties as an officer to abide by the law. Members of the public, on a public street, unquestionably have a First Amendment right to record law enforcement officers, acting in the course of their duties. Indeed, as recent events have shown, video recording of law enforcement activity plays a crucial role in holding police accountable for misconduct — particularly in California, where public access to information about officer misconduct is limited by state law.”
An attorney for the National Lawyers Guild, Colleen Flynn, is currently representing Paez and believes that Paez’s constitutional rights were violated on Sunday. Speaking about the incident, Flynn said “What they wanted was to make sure that they were not held accountable, that nobody could see what actions they were taking.”