WILMINGTON, N.C. — A Wilmington police sergeant is shown on video instructing a citizen who was pulled over for a traffic stop that he is not allowed to record the interaction due to a new state law prohibiting the recording of police interactions.
Shortly after that, a New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy agrees with the officer that there is a new state law. There is no such law in North Carolina.
The video comes from defense attorney Jesse Bright, who also drives for Uber in his spare time. Bright said he was making a round trip for a customer in late February and was stopped shortly after the passenger got back into the vehicle.
The passenger was asked to exit the vehicle and submit to a search. The location where Bright stopped was described as a “drug house” by an officer heard on the video.
When Bright kept recording the interaction, an unidentified officer with the Wilmington Police Department, confronted him and told him to stop recording.
Officer: Hey bud, turn that off, OK?
Driver: No, I’ll keep recording. Thank you. It’s my right.
Officer: Don’t record me. You got me?
Driver: Look, you’re a police officer on duty. I can record you.
Officer walks to driver’s side of vehicle
Officer: Be careful because there is a new law. Turn it off or I’ll take you to jail.
Driver: For recording you? What is the law?
Officer: Step out of the car.
Driver: What are you arresting me for? I’m sitting here in my car. I’m just recording in case anything happens. I’m surrounded by five police officers.
Officer: You’re being a jerk.
Driver: I’m scared right now. I’m not being a jerk. I’m recording in case anything happens.
Officer: You better hope we don’t find something in your car?
Driver: You’re not searching my car?
Officer: I’m going to search your car.
Driver: You’re not searching my car.
Officer calls for K-9 unit
Driver: Bring the K-9s. I don’t care. I know my rights.
Officer: I hope so. I know what the law is.
Driver: I know the law. I’m an attorney, so I would hope I know what the law is.Officer: And an Uber driver?
Linda Thompson with the Wilmington Police Department says an internal affairs investigation started last Friday, when police became aware of the incident involving the Mobile Field Force. She would not identify the sergeant involved and said police would not be able to comment until the investigation is over.
When asked if it’s the policy of the Wilmington Police Department to instruct citizens that it is illegal to film traffic stops, Thompson said, “it is not.”
Chief Ralph Evangelous issued the following statement Wednesday in response to the videos:
"Taking photographs and videos of people that are in plain sight including the police is your legal right. As a matter of fact we invite citizens to do so when they believe it is necessary. We believe that public videos help to protect the police as well as our citizens and provide critical information during police and citizen interaction.”
The WPD stated that each officer will be given this statement to read as well.
Lt. Jerry Brewer with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said there is no internal investigation in that department because their deputy did not violate anything.
Brewer would not identify the deputy involved. He said it’s been thoroughly ingrained in deputies that all their interactions are recorded on body cameras. A state law signed last year prevents the release of the video captured on the cameras without a court order.
A later statement from the sheriff’s office indicates the deputy has been counseled and that staff members are ensuring each deputy is aware that citizens can record encounters.
A K-9 was brought in and apparently indicated the presence of narcotics, which led officers to do a full search of the vehicle.
Bright sent an email explaining what he says happened during the stop:
"At that time, the K-9 unit arrived at scene. I repeatedly asked the Sergeant and the K-9 what the dog’s indicator was, to indicate that he smelled narcotics in the vehicle. They refused to tell me. The K-9 lead the dog around my car 1 time, in which the dog did nothing but sniff the vehicle. He didn’t seem to make any indication at all towards the vehicle, besides sniffing in the places that the K-9 told him to sniff. After the sniff was done, the Sgt immediately went into my vehicle without my permission, and did a full search, checking all areas of the car, and pulling everything out of the center console and glove box. During the search, I was told I had to let them search my body as well, which they did. He found absolutely nothing illegal in my vehicle, or my person, and eventually walked back to his car. Another officer told me that me and my Uber passenger were free to go.”
Bright said that his constitutional rights were violated by the command to stop recording and a subsequent search of his vehicle, for which he did not consent.