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Cyclist's Encounter with Redmond Police Officer Causes Stir on Reddit

A YouTube video shows the officer threatening the bicyclist with arrest for recording him making a traffic stop.

A Seattle bicyclist has started a thread on the social news website Reddit asking for legal advice after a dispute with a Redmond Police officer over his rights to record a traffic stop.

In a YouTube video the bicyclist also posted, the officer is heard saying "if you record me, I'll arrest you...if you do this one second longer, you're violating a law in this state."

Both the video and account on Reddit were posted under a pseudonym.

According to the cyclist's account on Reddit, he was riding his bicycle with two other friends on Cleveland Street at around 2 p.m. last Saturday when the group was stopped by Officer Bill Corson for impeding traffic. The cyclist said he immediately began recording the encounter using a cell phone app but was ordered to stop and threatened with arrest. Here is more from his Reddit post: 

The officer asked what I was doing, and when I explained that I was recording him, he threatened me with illegal arrest under the state recording law. I presume he was referring to RCW 9.73.030, but that does not apply because RCW 9.73.030 only restricts recording private communication where the parties have not given consent. There is no expectation of privacy in public. Furthermore, Courts of Appeals in multiple circuits and the Department of Justice have said that recording the police in public is a first amendment right.

In one of the most recent high-profile cases concerning video recording of police actions, the DOJ has instructed the Baltimore Police Department "not to threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or other recording devices."

Redmond Police Chief Ron Gibson sent this statement to Redmond Patch via email: 

The Redmond Police Department prides itself on maintaining the professional, ethical, and legal behavior of all our officers. We have been contacted by the individual involved in this incident with Officer Corson. The Redmond Police Department has policies and procedures in place to handle complaints of this nature and we have initiated an internal investigation into the behavior of this officer during this contact. The Redmond Police Department takes all complaints very seriously and we intend to thoroughly investigate this incident. We anticipate having this investigation completed per our policies within the next 30 days.

You can read the entire Reddit thread by clicking here.

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Editor's note: This story was revised a few minutes after it was posted to include a statement from Redmond Police Chief Ron Gibson.

Joe May 30, 2012 at 04:55 AM
Thanks for posting this news. It is a newsworthy topic because it brings into question what rights we have. Should citizens have the right to video the police? The policeman in the video claims it was illegal to video him but, according to some interpretations of the RCW, that does not appear correct, or at least it not certain. Other interpretations I came across indicate that you can video Washington police only if you obtain their consent. Most other states apparently do not require such consent. In the aftermath of 9-11 we often read that, if we public citizens don’t have anything to hide, then we should not mind being videoed, wire-tapped or text-monitored because it helps improve safety. This incident between the Redmond bicyclist and the policeman brings me to conclude that this should apply to everyone, if it applies to anyone. That is, I now think it is only fair that the public should have the right to video the police because it is reasonable for accountability to go both ways. Of course, the video-capture process must not interfere with the officer’s ability to perform their good duty. So, if Washington State law states anything less than that, then I now think it should be changed to permit common citizens to video the police (as long as it does not interfere).
Joe May 30, 2012 at 04:55 AM
Apparently, this is an increasingly hot topic across the nation. Here is an article in Time: “The most powerful weapon against police misconduct — taping cops with cell-phone cameras — is getting support from the courts” http://ideas.time.com/2012/05/21/a-new-first-amendment-right-videotaping-the-police And the US Department of Justice said in May 2012 that “citizens have a broad right to record police officers on duty” according to this article: http://www.theverge.com/2012/5/16/3024042/us-doj-police-baltimore-video-recording-civil-right I am glad the Redmond Police department is acting professionally and investigating the incident. I hope that we see some follow up articles about their findings.
Caitlin Moran May 30, 2012 at 05:21 AM
Thanks for providing those links and offering your thoughts, Joe. It certainly is an issue that's getting a lot of attention in many different places.
Silvia Dillon May 30, 2012 at 04:57 PM
OK I understand the rights issue and that is very important but let's try to not forget that the gentleman and his friends on the bike were impeding traffic - sometimes I wonder if this was not started to distract us from the real thing.
Kim Estes -The Savvy Safety Mama May 30, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Thanks for those links Joe. I too am curious how this will unfold and look for the update on what the RPD finds in their investigation. I am sure that this is a growing question for anyone (not just police) who deal with the public and whether or not someone has a "right" to record a public interaction. I wonder if the response from the officer would have been the same if someone (other than the man who was being stopped/ticketed) was doing the filming (such as a passerby).
GBuhlman May 30, 2012 at 06:15 PM
We can't say without knowing the full details of the traffic stop, but from what the cyclist is reporting (see http://www.reddit.com/r/Bad_Cop_No_Donut/comments/u7bsc/yesterday_i_was_threatened_with_illegal_arrest/), it doesn't sound like there was any violation here. I rode down Cleveland the next day with my wife and kids also taking the lane for safety reasons. There is no bike lane. There is a narrow parking lane along the side and it is a 2 lane one-way street. The only way to ride down that street and be out of the door zone and safe from cars trying to squeeze by you is to take the lane and RCW 46.61.770 does allow cyclists to do this (see http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.61.770): "A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway or highway other than a limited-access highway, which roadway or highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near to the left side of the left through lane as is safe. " Of course all of this is based on only hearing one side of the story. The full details may result in a different interpretation.
GBuhlman May 30, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Quoted the wrong part of the code: "Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe.." It is the "as is safe" text that allows a cyclist to take the lane for safety reasons.
Caitlin Moran May 30, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Thanks everyone, for sharing your thoughts. We've posted an update here with some additional information from both RPD and the cyclist: http://patch.com/A-tF9m
Ron Olson June 01, 2012 at 02:53 AM
The police officer was out of line, abused his authority, is ignorant of the law, and his public relation skills leave a lot to be desire, too. He deserves the negative publicity that he's getting from the YouTube posting. The only crime is that good cops have the share the shame with Officer Corson.

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