Brevard County deputies review arrest of man filming traffic stop

Recording of police activity causes debate

Published On: Nov 01 2013 05:11:25 PM EDT
COCOA, Fla. -

Brevard County Sheriff’s Office is reviewing the arrest of a man who was handcuffed after he filmed a deputy making a traffic stop, according the Florida Today newspaper

Jeffrey Marcus Gray, 43, told Florida Today he works for Photography is Not a Crime, a blog that focuses on recording police activity. He and his attorney consider the arrest wrongful.

“Well, he was arrested while engaged in constitutionally protected activity and some deputies from Brevard County screwed up,” said Gray’s attorney, Eric Friday. “A citizen with a camera is just like any other journalist and has the same rights to film what’s going on in a public space.”

The state attorney’s office hasn’t formally charged Gray — a spokeswoman explained they are anticipating more information from the Sheriff’s Office. BCSO Commander Jimmy Donn explained his agency is working with the State Attorney’s Office and Gray’s attorney.

“In the particular incident we’re talking about, we had a citizen who intentionally injected himself into an active, fluid law enforcement action,” Donn said.

“Whatever his motivations may have been, whatever his constitutional protections may have been, that decision does not come without consequences, and if those decisions and those actions put the public at risk or put a law enforcement officer at risk, we are prepared to pursue criminal charges and seek judicial review of that action. Having said that, the sheriff’s office is conducting a very thorough review of all of the circumstances and dynamics of that particular event, including the arrest of Mr. Gray and we are in consultation with the state attorney, we have engaged Mr. Gray’s legal counsel and we are making every effort to ensure that the proper and just decision to meet everyone’s legal and lawful interests are met. So it’s an ongoing review.”

Gray said he regularly makes public records requests. Based in St. Augustine, he passed through Brevard County last week on his way back from Miami. He said he stopped to get video of marked police vehicles for a future video piece about public records in Brevard. He saw a traffic stop on West King Street in unincorporated Cocoa and walked over to document it.

Police records show that Deputy Brett Cook requested backup while he conducted the traffic stop. An agent from the Game Over task force arrived, whose identity is exempt from public records. The agent saw Gray standing about 30 feet behind Cook, holding a cell phone, pointing it at Cook.

Police records show the agent approached Gray and asked why he was there. Gray said he did not have to answer any questions. The agent asked his name — Gray said he didn’t have to tell his name and handed the agent a yellow card. Gray said this was his “right’s invocation card” and he had the “right to tape law enforcement.” The agent told Gray he could stand away from Cook and record video.

Police records show the agent then contacted the owner of the property on which Gray parked and was standing. Cindy Flachmeier said she wanted Gray removed from her property. The agent told Gray he had to move his car and leave. Gray walked back toward the street in front of the car Cook had stopped, saying his wife would move the car.

Police records show Gray stood on the county right of way in front of the traffic stop and in front of the business. The agent told him he was under arrest and put him in handcuffs.

Gray posted a video online that was shot on a camera that remained in his car. The video apparently captures an interaction between his wife and sheriff’s deputies after Gray is walked away.

Agent: "Who are you?"

Wife: "I'm his wife and you guys are making a big mistake."

Agent: "OK. He was told to leave, you better get that camera out of my face. He was told to leave several times. He thinks this is a game, it is not."

Wife: "It is not but what I'm saying — it's not against the law."

Agent: "Do you understand how dangerous it is to stand behind a patrolman when he's doing a traffic stop? He doesn't know who you are. OK? He's got to worry about him now instead of the traffic violation. OK? You think that's fair to him?"

Wife: "He's standing over here. Well within his rights."

Agent: "No, he's walking around. He's walking around the deputy. OK? Making him nervous. OK? That's, there's no reason for that. Do you understand how dangerous traffic stops are? If he wants to videotape him, why couldn't he stand over there like we told him to? OK? He's got a, he's got an obligation to the citizens in that car and his family to go home at night. He doesn't have to worry about somebody who thinks it's fun to walk around a patrolman on a traffic stop. OK — he's impeding an active investigation. And it's unacceptable. He was told he was trespassing."

Wife: "He's standing over here."

Agent: "He was told five times to leave. He failed to do so. OK?"

Dialogue pauses for a moment, then Gray’s wife has another encounter with a person who sounds like a different deputy.

Agent 2: "Ma'am. This is what I'm telling you, I'm gonna tell you one time, one time only. Take this vehicle and leave this, this parking lot. You're not free to be on the roadway, the county right of way or in this parking lot. You're now trespassing. I'm only gonna tell you that one time, OK? Do you understand what I'm telling you."

Wife: "Yes."

Agent 2: "Here's his property. He's going to Brevard County Detention center."

Wife: "Where is that?"

Agent 2: "I don't have to tell you because you're not gonna cooperate with me, I'm not gonna cooperate with you. What I'm telling you right now is: get in that seat, move this vehicle."

Gray was booked without incident at Brevard County Jail on two charges of resisting an officer without violence and one charge of trespassing after warning. He paid a $1,500 bond.

“It’s important because we need to watch the watchers,” Gray’s attorney said.

Donn said the incident was exaggerated and taken to levels of emotion that were unnecessary. He said the woman driving the car that was stopped was upset by Gray and felt her privacy was being violated.

“We did not create that kind of drama,” Donn said. “So I think the average citizen who’s driving their vehicle and they have an interaction with a law enforcement officer, those people would not desire that event to be videotaped and broadcast on every social media outlet available.”