ACLU: Police Seizing of Witness's Phone Illegal and Totally Not Cool

The ACLU of Texas is criticizing a Houston police officer's alleged seizing of a witness's cell phone at the scene where the officer shot an unarmed man.

HPD says Officer J. McGowan shot Rufino Lara while investigating an alleged assault after he refused both English and Spanish commands to put his hands in the air, keeping one hand in his shirt. But a family friend, present at the scene, said at a news conference Wednesday that Lara had his hands up when he was shot, and that an officer swiped her cell phone when she tried to record the aftermath.

"It's a shame we can't see the video the witness reportedly tried to make," ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke stated in a press release.

"Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland has asked for the public to withhold judgment about the shooting. The right of Texans to record police activity in a manner that does not interfere with police work is an important protection against abuses of power by the government. The behavior of some members of the local police department might be less suspect if officers showed more respect for the Constitution, and, in this instance, the First Amendment."

HPD spokesman Keese Smith told Hair Balls that officers are repeatedly reminded that "pretty much every action that they take, they should assume that they're being videotaped. So this isn't new." He could not comment specifically on the Rufino case, as it's under internal investigation.

ACLU of Texas Legal Director Rebecca Robertson also stated in the press release, "Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right -- and that includes police and other government officials carrying out their duties."

We're curious to see what the investigation turns up, and we'll update accordingly.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
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