The Times, Munster, Ind.
A man who filmed his own arrest last week during a confrontation with police outside the Lake County Government Center asserts he was exercising his First Amendment freedom by recording on government property and his rights were violated when he was placed under arrest.
However, the Lake County sheriff contended that civilians had called 911 on the man for reported suspicious behavior and officers had the responsibility to investigate in the interest of public safety.
Floyd L. Wallace, 25, of Omaha, Nebraska, was arrested on charges he refused to identify himself and resisted officers’ commands when approached by police dispatched for a suspicious person report, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.
Wallace, a self-proclaimed “First Amendment rights activist” and moderator of the YouTube channel “News Now Omaha Copwatch” told The Times in an interview he was exercising his civil rights and shouldn’t have been arrested.
“I was just taking pictures, exercising my First Amendment protected as a citizen, exercising my Freedom of Press (and) gathering content for a story,” Wallace said, adding that he was not being disruptive and was preparing to leave when officers approached him.
Wallace’s YouTube channel documents run-ins with police officers as he tests his First Amendment freedoms. He said he films his interactions with police to shed light on misconduct.
“Every interaction I’ve had with police, they’ve all come to me. I don’t harass people. They come to me. I don’t go to them,” Wallace said.
Wallace was taken into custody about 2:30 p.m. March 25 outside the government center after police responded to 911 calls of a suspicious person in the area, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Callers alleged Wallace was peering through car windows, attempting to record video of VIN numbers and license plates and trying to get underneath parked cars, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez said in a written statement.
Some civilians approached the man and said they would call police, to which the man allegedly said to “go ahead and do that,” Martinez said.
Officers approached Wallace to confirm or deny the reports, Martinez said.
When officers went to the parking lot, Wallace fled on foot in the direction of 93rd Avenue, Martinez said. Police approached Wallace to further investigate the suspicious person report; however, he then allegedly became belligerent and yelled at officers to get away from him.
Wallace said the officers “rushed” him out of nowhere and began questioning him.
“The law says I don’t have to answer none of their questions, so I decided not to answer their questions. Then they approached me, grabbed me and took my phone holder from my pocket,” Wallace said.
Martinez said Wallace was uncooperative and had what appeared to be part of a weapon in his back pocket. Officers asked the man about the item, which they believed could have been the handle of a firearm.
“The officers had probable cause to ensure that the suspect was not armed during this encounter,” Martinez said.
The man then allegedly resisted police as they attempted to investigate whether he was armed with a handgun. Police released an image of the device the man had, which they said resembles the handle of a handgun.
Martinez commended the officers’ handling of the situation.
“Officers never objected to the subject recording video,” Martinez said. ” … When an officer is dispatched to a call, they assess the situation. Hypothetically, if any citizen called 911 because they saw a suspicious person on a public sidewalk recording their house … we would dispatch officers who would confront the subject and attempt to confirm there is no threat. We would then inform the citizen who called 911 that the subject was simply recording video. We would also advise the citizen that the subject was on public property. The situation would end there.”
The sheriff said the response to the 911 calls from individuals at the government center were no different. Police have the responsibility of responding to the area, investigating what is going on and determining if there’s a threat to public safety or criminal activity in progress.
“We understand people’s right to record video on public property, including government property,” Martinez said. “However, when the person recording video on a public parking lot approaches civilian cars, which could be transporting potential jurors, witnesses or other civilians, and someone calls to report a suspicious incident, I expect my officers to investigate.”
The 23-minute long video begins outside of the government center near a sidewalk with an officer approaching Wallace, who says, “Back off,” to which the officer replies, “What’s going on?”
The officer then asks, “What is in your back pocket?”
Wallace responds, “It’s none of your business what’s in my back pocket. Stop walking up on me. Don’t touch me.”
The officers continue to stand and speak to Wallace, asking again what is in his back pocket. When Wallace questions their command to not touch the item in his back pocket, the officer responded, “It looks like the handle to a gun.”
Wallace repeated that he did not want to be touched, and an officer raised a Taser as he said, “Put your hands in the air.”
The officers then appear to make physical contact with Wallace to investigate what he has in his pocket, while he yells for officers not to touch him.
Wallace then repeated, “What crime am I being detained for?” and told police they could not seize his property. Some items are seen lying on the ground as officers asked that he identify himself and say what he was doing.
Police said he was reported as a suspicious person and appeared to search Wallace. Wallace said he was taking pictures and then told the officers to get supervisors because he said they were violating his rights.
Wallace additionally told police he was going to plead the Fifth Amendment.
An officer then said, “You’re not going to give us your name? We get your name, you’re out of here man. That’s all you have to do.”
Wallace didn’t give his name and repeated his request for a supervisor. An officer was holding items belonging to Wallace while they waited for a supervisor to arrive, to which Wallace accused them of theft of his property.
“You seized my property, which is a violation of my First Amendment rights,” Wallace is heard saying.
After a period of time, more officers arrived. When he asked the name and badge number for the additional officers, one of them approached him and said, “This guy is going to talk to you and get your side of everything that’s going on.”
Wallace then replied, “You’re not getting anything from me, man.”
The officer responded, “Well then you’re going to jail, have a nice day.”
When Wallace asked for what crime, the officer said, “We were called out for a suspicious incident, we have a right to check to make sure you’re not a risk to anyone. But you don’t want to play along, you don’t want to act like an adult. Now you get to go to jail as a child.”
After some discussion, the officer yelled, “I’m asking again, take him to jail,” and Wallace was escorted into a squad car. As he reached the squad car, Wallace gave his name and date of birth.
The video ends with police discussing the incident with each other and placing the camera and other of Wallace’s possessions in a squad car.
Wallace faces one count each of failure to ID and resisting. He disputes the charges against him.
He insisted the failure to ID charge shouldn’t apply to him because, he said, he was not committing a crime when he was arrested.
“They told me that I was being detained for suspicious activity, but suspicious activity is not a misdemeanor, nor a felony, nor an infraction,” Wallace said. “…The problem with resisting is, I wasn’t arrested when they said I was resisting. I was only arrested when the supervisor came up and told them to take me to jail. That’s the only time I was ever officially arrested, so I couldn’t have resisted because I went willingly and complied with their orders and I gave my name when I was going into custody.”
Wallace, who is black, also said he felt discriminated against because of his skin color and the way he was dressed. Wallace said he was wearing a camera vest, a body camera, sunglasses with a hidden camera, black pants and black shoes.
“I feel like, if I was white, I wouldn’t have gotten treated the way I got treated,” he said.
Wallace faces charges of resisting law enforcement and refusal to identify, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Those charges had not been filed Thursday, Lake County prosecutor’s office spokesman Bradley Carter said.
Court records show a pending small claims case involving Wallace was filed Tuesday. Wallace said he is suing because his money seized during his arrest was not returned after he was released from Lake County Jail.
Everything else Wallace was carrying during his arrest was returned to him, he said.
Wallace added that he intends to pursue further legal action if he is formally charged in connection with the March 25 incident.
“What I’m hoping is that they dismiss it, don’t file charges and let me be. If they don’t, then I’m gonna have to follow up with taking it to court and taking it to trial.”
Martinez said in light of current events, law enforcement takes possible threats to public safety on government property very seriously.
“With the mass shootings that have occurred across the country, and people attempting to lay siege on government property, we will not stand idly by and ignore situations that could be potential threats,” Martinez said. “In this situation, our officers did exactly what they were trained to do — to ensure the safety of all members of the public; government employees and civilians alike.”
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