Add my name to the many libertarians congratulating Pete Eyre and his buddy Adam Mueller for their quick acquittal in a jury trial in the town of Greenfield, Massachusetts. I know Pete personally, and he has been a tremendous help to us with Internet projects here at FFF. He is one of the finest, friendliest, and most competent people you’d ever find.
He’s also a person who believes that public officials are public servants and that we, the citizenry, are the ones they serve. It’s that mindset that obviously got him and Adam into trouble with the cops in Greenfield.
About a year ago, Pete and Adam travelled to Greenfield to bail out two friends who had been arrested on charges relating to the drug war and the war on guns. While at the jail inquiring about the bail, Pete and Adam asked the jail official if it was okay to videotape their interaction with the jail officials, and the jail official responded that, yes, that that would be okay.
You see, Pete and Adam are the principals in an organization called Cop Block, which advocates filming and recording police officers, especially when they’re engaged in wrongdoing, such as beating, insulting, or abusing citizens, and posting the recordings online. Videotaping and recording are ways to keep cops accountable, and it also helps to protect victims from cops who would later lie under oath about what they did.
Some cops, especially the good ones, have no objections to being videotaped or recorded in their interactions with citizens. Such cops know that they’re going to be courteous and respectful to people anyway and so there’s no reason to object to being videotaped or recorded. They also understand their relative role in society — that they, the cops, are the servants, and the citizenry are the masters.
After inquiring about the bail at the Greenfield jail, Pete and Adam departed and returned a short time later with the bail money. By that time, however, the situation had changed. Some Greenfield cops, including a police sergeant name Todd Dodge, had appeared on the scene. Dodge told Pete and Adam that they were no longer permitted to videotape the proceedings and ordered them to shut off the camera.
Pete and Adam advised Dodge that the jail official had granted them permission to videotape, but Dodge angrily responded that the jail official had now changed his mind. When Pete and Adam asked to see an official written policy prohibiting videotaping in the jail facility, Dodge responded that all that mattered was that Pete and Adam must comply with the new orders.
After a few minutes, Dodge, obviously outraged that Pete and Adam were not obeying his orders, took them into custody.
The charge? Wiretapping! Yes, wiretapping! Can you believe that? When you hear “wiretapping,” don’t you think about someone tapping into a telephone line and listening in on someone’s conversation? Well, in Massachusetts they’ve expanded the meaning of “wiretapping” to include secretly recording a conversation with another person.
But the operative word is “secretly.” There obviously wasn’t anything secretive about the videotaping that Pete and Adam were doing. Click here and scroll down to “4-Min Teaser Video About Greenfield Situation” which is the videotape showing the interaction between Dodge and Pete and Adam that ended in their arrest.
The videotaping was obviously all out in the open. Dodge was ordering them to shut off the camera, which is fairly persuasive proof that he knew he was being recorded — that is, that the recording wasn’t secretive. Later, obviously a bit desperate, the prosecutor in the case, Jeffrey A. Bengston, apparently made the clever argument that the recording was “secret” because it was being transmitted to a computer for uploading to the Internet. Unfortunately for Bengston, the jury didn’t buy his cleverness, and rightfully so.
Oh, they also charged them with “resisting arrest,” the standard charge that usually accompanies charges that cops know are weak. It’s a strategy akin to throwing a bunch of mud at a wall and hoping that some of it sticks. What’s surprising is that they didn’t also charge them with disorderly conduct, the other catch-all crime when everything else is weak.
No doubt recognizing that they were on shaky legal grounds, the cops then went out in search of more crimes. They located Pete’s and Adam’s van, which was parked on the street and claimed that something looked wrong with the vehicle’s identification number (VIN). They broke into the van, conducted a detailed search, no doubt looking for drugs or a gun, which could be easier to prosecute than wiretapping and resisting arrest. They didn’t find any drugs or guns, but they did find a small bit of ammunition. So, they also charged them with possession of unregistered ammunition. (Yes, believe it or not, that’s a felony offense in Massachusetts.)
Prior to trial, Bengston voluntarily withdrew the VIN charge and the ammunition charge, perhaps either because of the obviously illegal nature of the search or because the charges obviously reflected how desperate the cops were to pin whatever charges they could on two citizens who refused to show proper deference to their authority.
Did I mention the trespass charge? Yes, the state was also claiming that Pete and Adam were trespassing onto public property — yes, public property — to wit, a public jail — yes, the place where the public has a right to come to bail out people who are being held in jail.
Last week, the case ended up going to the jury. After the evidence was heard the judge threw out the resisting arrest charge for Pete, which normally means that there was no evidence whatsoever to support the charge. He apparently also threw out the trespass charge, no doubt because it was so utterly ridiculous.
The judge, however, did permit the wiretapping charge and the resisting arrest charge against Adam to go the jury. After just two hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a verdict of acquittal.
The jury’s verdict was a slap in the face of police officer Todd Dodge and the other cops who participated in this shameful ordeal.
Let’s face it: notwithstanding the ridiculous, baseless, and illegal charges, the real crime for which Pete and Adam were being prosecuted was “contempt of cop” — that is, their refusal to show proper deference to Dodge and his cohorts — their refusal to follow their orders.
But thanks to Pete and Adam, who made it clear before trial that they would not enter into any plea bargain, the jury put Dodge and his cohorts in their place. Message to Sgt. Dodge and your cohorts who participated in this shameful prosecution: In a free society, citizens don’t have to respond to the dictates or decrees of those in power. They have to answer only to the law. The principle is called “the rule of law, not the rule of men.”
If you want to establish a formal policy regarding videotaping in the jail or any other public building, then by all means do so. But don’t be issuing orders and then prosecuting people for disobeying them. That’s the kind of system that exists in Cuba or North Korea.
Equally important, never forget that as a cop, you’re a servant and that’s all you are. You serve us, the citizenry. We are your masters. As such, you show us deference and respect, and if you don’t like how that works, then you’re free to quit anytime you want.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I failed to point that the jury’s quick verdict of acquittal was also a real slap in the face of the prosecutor, Jeffrey Bengston. Pete and Adam, who are not lawyers, represented themselves in the proceedings. There is nothing easier for a competent and experienced litigator than to beat a non-lawyer in court. When the non-lawyer wins, it usually means one of two things: either the lawyer is a total nincompoop or the charges were so ridiculous and baseless that they should never have been brought in the first place or a combination of the two.
Bengston should never have proceeded to trial. He should have moved to dismiss all the charges, not just the ammunition charge. His oath of office demands that he seek justice, not proceed with baseless and ridiculous charges against people who have offended cops by failing to show proper deference to authority. Bengston owes an apology to Pete and Adam and the citizenry of the state of Massachusetts.
It is people like Pete and Adam who help keep America free. Thanks to that Greenfield jury for keeping Pete and Adam free and for helping keep America free.
To learn more about Cop Block and to read Pete’s summary of the case, click here .
For perhaps the most amusing aspect of the case, click here to see how one of the jurors responded to the state’s ridiculous and baseless prosecution of Pete Eyre and Adam Mueller.