Recent news and social network coverage of a traffic stop involving deputies assigned a specialty unit of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has garnered public scrutiny, in some cases proliferating inaccurate accounts and perceptions. The Sheriff and this agency continue to recognize the constitutional right of citizens to video law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties in public places, from their homes or private property where they have permission to be. That legal right, however, is NOT unlimited.
Here are just a few examples established by case law for when deputies may find it necessary to restrict video recording:
There is case law also to support the seizure of video recording devices to include:
As was explained in the lopsided story on local television, the deputy took the phone from the legally detained subject out of concern for the safety of those present. That stems, not only from potentially disguised weapons or sudden outward resistance of a subject, but to recent shooting events where phone calls to friends and/or family by persons of interest in investigations has resulted in the distraction and interference of lawful process as crowds gathered and tensions raised or disturbances incited. These incidents, while deemed isolated, are naturally a reasonable consideration. It’s also important to recognize the phone was returned to the citizen once safety was no longer an issue and all probable cause suspicions were adequately resolved. The phone, recording and contents were not tampered with, but rightfully returned.
The video that was taken clearly reveals the deputy’s uniform is different than the average Lee County patrol deputy. These were members of the Field Support Unit. A team of professional, experienced deputies whose primary function is interdiction, prevention and suppression of criminal activity in the various patrol districts of Lee County. As crime trends or suspicious activity is noted, the unit will saturate the designated area with a common goal of rooting out the criminal element and restoring safety, security and peace of mind to residents and businesses. Much like their highway counterparts, they are likely to come across illegal activity such as credit or tax fraud, drug distribution and wanted criminals.
In a given shift, this team will conduct multiple traffic stops. Their protocol is consistent, professional and expedient. In this case, a clear traffic violation was observed. The stop conducted and contact with the driver initiated. Numerous indicators of potential criminal activity were noted as the routine traffic encounter continued. Those indicators could not be ignored.
The driver’s interaction with deputies, coupled with an experienced K9 alerting to the scent of illegal narcotics, prompted further investigation. A semi-automatic firearm was found, rendered safe and checked against stolen gun records. An extended magazine for the weapon was recovered and a bag full of checks made out to a local bail bondsman. It wasn’t until later the driver would reluctantly admit he didn’t want the deputies to know he worked for a bail bondsman, initially telling deputies he worked at a well-known grocery retailer. At the end of the stop, no drugs could be found; a reasonable explanation could be provided for the presence of all those checks; a concealed weapons permit was verified, the gun was not stolen; and, the man was able to proceed on his way, phone and video in hand.
In conclusion, all members of the Sheriff’s Office swear an oath to stand by the Constitution of the United States and the fundamental rights of the First Amendment. Our policies and procedures consistently reinforce it and we accept accountability in the unlikely event someone would be found to violate it.
Media inquiries are directed to Lieutenant Larry King, Public Information Officer, at (239) 477-1343.