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Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in Law | 2 comments

Pepper Spray (continued): Kelly Says Internal Affairs Will Investigate/[more video] What Do You Think of the Evidence?

Yet another video, uploaded last night, “shows Bologna getting trigger-happy with the spray, just moments after the first incident, simply in an effort to get some kids to scram.” Watch:

A short while ago Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Internal Affairs will look into the incident. But he seems to be signaling very little credibility to the video evidence:

“I don’t know what precipitated that specific incident,” he said, but added that demonstrators as a group were engaged in “tumultuous conduct” and were “intent on blocking traffic” as they marched down University Place on their return from Union Square to the financial district, where the protesters have been encamped for more than a week.

Mr. Kelly said concerns about the pepper spray episode had been referred to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct. Mr. Kelly said the department would also “look at it ourselves as well,” and added that the internal inquiry would be handled by the Internal Affairs Bureau.

Earlier, the NYTimes reported that being doused with pepper spray is experienced like a punch in the face. And that a 1996 law in NY State — passed over the objections of then Mayor Rudolf Giuliani — regulates pepper spray as a dangerous weapon and is strict about who can carry it and how it is used. Teenagers and felons, for example, cannot use it under any circumstances.

It turns out, the deputy inspector who used it on protestors Saturday hit a fellow officer along with the protesters. He has a prior protest complaint for civil rights abuses and false arrest during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. Evidence is accumulating, backing up the original story told by protestors:

IN the video, the deputy inspector, Anthony Bologna, looked as if he were spraying cockroaches. When asked about the matter, the chief spokesman for the Police Department, Paul J. Browne, said it had been used “appropriately.”

In his statement, he also said, “Pepper spray was used once after individuals confronted officers and tried to prevent them from deploying a mesh barrier — something that was edited out or otherwise not captured in the video.”

Other videos have surfaced, and it is hard to square the events described by Mr. Browne with what they show. Earlier in the week, after a different encounter, Mr. Browne said a man had been arrested “for jumping a police barrier and resisting arrest.” A sequence of photographs published on the City Room blog of The New York Times showed precisely the opposite: a deputy inspector tried to pull a protester over a barrier, and then he jumped over to grab the protester. Mr. Browne later said he had gotten his facts scrambled.

It is axiomatic that early reports in confusing situations are usually wrong.

The pepper spray videos have gone around the world, trailed by Mr. Browne’s instant justification and defense of them. The combination has done little credit to the Police Department, which, in fact, has had a generally civil and accommodating relationship with the protesters, according to many people on the scene.

I note the commenters here who are quick to assume the cameras lied. I agree, cameras do lie, can lie. Try telling that to the police driving around with cameras capable of reading 3,600 license plates an hour. Then it’s the police who refuse to believe their photographic evidence could be wrong.

In that 60 Minutes segment last Sunday on the NYPD fighting terrorism, we learned that city camera equipment is mounted on nearly every downtown street — there are 2,000 cameras, soon there will be 3,000, fed into a hidden 150 million-dollar control center. That equipment can pick out individual items left on sidewalks and locate everyone photographed who, for example, was wearing a specific color.

I’m guessing they’ve got a few cameras focused on Union Square. They keep not believing the footage that’s out there, why not show us some footage of their own. They’ve got cameras on cars and buildings, why not cameras on cops? A police cap-cam. We know well that soldiers have them; the technology is out there.

Color me suspicious.

It seems that some of the commenters here are not. Many of you are more comfortable with cameras on buildings and cars and street corners than I am. Then, you say, the cameras don’t lie. I’m happy to have cops with cameras, but I want the people to be free to have them, too.

Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, there’s a documented war on people, citizens, with cameras. A sampling…

In Miami Beach in June, police shot an unarmed man, then ran up to a witness who had been recording the incident on his cell phone camera and snatched it from him. At gunpoint. They also confiscated the camera of a Local 10 news videographer. All told, the police took three camera phones and two SIM cards, in addition to the news camera.

Apparently, Miami police have a habit of confiscating cameras.

A priest was arrested for recording an incident of police harassment in New Haven. The footage shot contradicted a claim in a police report on the incident.

A Broward County Sheriff’s deputy is accused of pulling a woman over, then stealing her cell phone after her passenger tried to videotape the traffic stop.

Neil Kremer, a photographer based in Los Angeles, was confronted by a security guard in a public park across Union Station because he had “a professional camera.”

A journalist in Long Beach was snapping photos outside his home of people texting or talking on their cell phones while driving for a story he was writing. After about 15 minutes, eight Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies descended upon him.

An Albuquerque police officer confiscated a camera from a KOB-TV reporter as she was working on a story about a nightclub.

Earlier this month, On The Media did a good story on the arbitrary restrictions on photographers:

[Attorney] MORGAN MANNING: Once you’re told to stop, and if it’s any kind of a dispute between the officer and the individual, the officer charges you with obstruction of justice, it’s his word against you; it’s a factual issue… [If there’s an arrest], even if the charges are dismissed, [you’ve] gone through the hassle and, and expense and time of litigation. Things like that are not supposed to happen.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Surely you’ve run across some cases where you thought, okay, the police officer had a reasonable right to be suspicious and to stop the photography.

MORGAN MANNING: I’ve run across cases where the police officers had reason to clear the area. But, to tell you the truth, it’s not a very reasonable conclusion that someone who is taking pictures poses a national security threat.

The battle seems unequal to me. And the NYPD should opt in to the new reality of cameras sooner rather than later — they’ve got theirs; we’ve got ours. Fight fire with fire.

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