On April 22 in a Santa Ana courthouse a jury decided that Veth Mam’s civil rights were not violated in October, 2010 by officers of the Fullerton Police Department, who pulled Mr. Mam from a crowd of onlookers as he video recorded them in action. The officers arrested him, charged him with assaulting a police officer, and swore he obstructed their work and tried to choke one of them. When he was tried in court the reports filed by FPD officers were easily disproven by the existence of a now widely circulated YouTube video. Mr. Mam went free, but not before the officers changed their stories mid-stream to what we can only call highly improbable narratives.
So Veth Mam sued them in federal court, claiming they had violated his civil rights by singling him out for daring to video them while they arrested his friend in the early morning hours in downtown Fullerton, and for throwing him in jail and maliciously prosecuting him, knowing he did not commit the crimes for which he was charged and eventually acquitted.
Last week an Orange County jury ruled against Mr. Mam, deciding that it was acceptable for police officers to needlessly arrest someone and then continually change their stories about what happened, allowing a man to be prosecuted on charges of an assault that clearly didn’t take place. (Scott Moxley’s reporting on the trial for The OC Weekly can be found here.)
Theoretically, you and I are free to film/video/record police in action as long as we don’t interfere with their work, but it looks like we can be arrested and prosecuted for doing so anyway. And if there is no strong exculpatory evidence, we can be convicted, as it seems probable Mr. Mam would have been if not for the existence of a cell phone video proving his innocence. It is only because someone else picked up Mr. Mam’s phone while it was still recording after it was knocked from his hand by FPD Officer Kenton Hampton, and used it to video what happened to Mr. Mam himself, that we know what we do about his arrest, and don’t have to rely on what the cops said happened. Not every case has such documentation. So, if you plan to record the FPD, two cameras are recommended.
What we don’t know, and legally can’t find out, is whether or not the officers involved were disciplined in any way by their superiors at the Fullerton Police Department for their actions. Last year the department reportedly opened an internal investigation into the matter, but without a police commission to review such matters, we have no idea if the FPD finds the behavior of its officers in this case as acceptable as a jury last week did.