Posts Tagged ‘Ninth Circuit’

Taser International Creates Video Cameras for Law Enforcement – But Do the Police Want Them?

Will police officers really agree to wearing video cameras?  I read in the business section of the Spokesman-Review last week that the company Taser International has introduced a new line of cameras for police officers.  taser-axon_1 Taser International, Inc. is, of course, best known for Taser guns, and has sold millions of such instruments for police officers world wide.  However, my guess is that these new cameras for police officers will be go over like a ton of bricks.  The article in the Spokesman explains:

Eighteen of San Jose’s more than 1,300 sworn officers have been trained to use the AXON head cameras as part of a free trial. Other departments are expected to be added to the program.  In San Jose, officers are required to switch on the cameras for even routine investigations, such as vehicle stops.  …  “People have been using (this technology) against us for years, unfortunately only for the bad stuff,” [Officer] Pender said. “So it’d be nice to show our view and our side of what’s going on.” In San Jose, officers are required to switch on the cameras for even routine investigations, such as vehicle stops. At the end of an officer’s shift, the device is placed in a docking station, where it recharges and its content is downloaded and stored on a secure server off site.

The truth is that these sort of cameras are not very popular with police officers or their departments.  As you can see from the photo above, the camera wraps around the ear and sits over the officer’s shoulder.   So it is like literally having someone looking over your shoulder.  And “that someone” is the top brass, the defense lawyers, the tort lawyers, the ACLU, the media, and the general public once the footage gets on TV.  Video evidence provides powerful graphic images that a jury can later see.  It is one thing for a witness or victim of police abuse to say what occurred, but another thing entirely for disturbing video footage to be presented.   While it is widely assumed that having a camera rolling would mean that the police would be on their best behavior, this is not the case.  Often times the officer subjectively believes he or she is acting appropriately at the time, but the video often show otherwise.  Youtube is full of videos of police officers improperly handling suspects while a dash cam is rolling.

Police officers generally don’t like to be recorded.   In the case of State v. Flora, a police officer went so far as to arrest a man who secretly audio-recorded him speaking.  The Washington State Court of Appeals held that the suspect was entitled to make such a recording due to the public nature of the encounter.  Can people really imagine the police of Spokane County, Grant County, Stevens County etc. wearing these things?

Although the salespeople with Taser Internations are trying to market the recording equipment as popular with police, it is not the police who will like them.  Until now, the greatest proponents of requiring the police to record suspect contacts have been civil libertarians.  See support from National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Justice Project, and ACLU.  The other proponents of requiring the recordings are defense lawyer bloggers.  See blog posts: Grits for Breakfast,, and Law and More.

The ACLU for years has been critical of the Taser gun (see here).  Does anyone else see the irony of Taser Inc. trying to make a buck off something the ACLU supports?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals just greatly limited the use of the Taser gun last week. (See here).  Since I read about this new line of Taser products in the business section of the newspaper, let me offer this financial advice:  The Taser cam won’t sell.  Now is the time to dump your Taser stock.

Native-Americans Protest Treaty Rights Infringements in North Okanogan County

Earlier this week many local Native-American tribes protested the Federal government policies restricting their rights to cross the Canadian border. The problem had been brewing for some time. See High Country News.

When I first moved to Ferry County in 1996, it seemed as if this was the county that was poised to enter big legal battles with the Colville Confederated Tribes.  The two governments were set to square off over who had primary jurisdiction to regulate land owned by non-Tribal members on the Reservation.  The subject dominated local politics and was the subject of frequent letters to the editor.  The Tribes were rumored to have a “million dollar war chest” to fund any litigation with the county.  The county commissioners appointed me county attorney in April 1998, and I urged caution on the part of the county. When you are looking for a good “test case” to bring to court, you don’t necessarily want to join the side of the first non-Tribal landowner to raise his hand.  In the end, a legal battle was avoided, and in my opinion Ferry County and the Tribes have worked together fairly well for the last ten years.

So I am glad to see that it was the Federal government this time that has drawn the ire of the Colville Tribes and has been accused of violating treaty rights.  This has come to the media’s attention rather recently as Tribal members have become fed up with being harassed by U.S. Border officials as they travel to and from their ancestral homelands across the border in British Columbia.  As someone who lives near the border myself, I have often found it frustrating to deal with border officials when I travel to Canada.  In addition, as an attorney I often represent defendants who get caught up in border issues.  The difference, of course, is that local Tribal members have special treaty rights to cross the border.  Under the Jay Treaty of 1794, Native-Americans were granted the right to engage in trade and travel between the United States and Canada, which was then British Territory.  Until 9/11 no one seemed to question the rights of Tribal members to travel to and from Canada with just their tribal ID cards.  But now, there is pressure on the Tribal members to give up the ID cards of their own government and to use passports or state enhanced drivers licenses. Local tribes are now considering issuing their own passports.

This controversy boiled over on June 1st as local Native Americans and Tribal members from Canada staged a protest in the border town of Night Hawk.  The protest was peaceful, but the Omak-Chronicle reported that it involved the removal of a border fence.  The Border Patrol did not try to intervene as the Tribal members crossed the border and back again.  I have to hand it to these protesters.  It took courage to take that step. I would have half expected the Feds to arrest some of them.  But I guess then it would have become a national story, rather than just a regional story.  I hope the Tribes pursue their rights in this respect.  Often it is the local governments or the States that are accused of violating treaty rights,  the Tribes are right to stand up to the Federal government too.  The Tribes in the U.S. sometimes seem to be the favorite underdog of the federal judiciary.  I can easily see the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals approving the rights of Tribal members to set up their own border check point.  However, unlike 10 years ago, when the Colville Confederated Tribes had money set aside for litigation, the Tribes now are suffering a budget crisis.  This border issue is something that I will try to follow closely.

What do you think?  What will come of this issue?  Is it fair to ask Native Americans to use State ID cards when they enjoy rights to sovereignty?

Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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