Austin activist Antonio Buehler filed a lawsuit against several members of the Austin Police Department on Dec. 31 for preventing him from filming police behavior — which, according to Buehler, is a violation of his civil rights.
Buehler was first arrested on Jan. 1, 2012 after he filmed, what he described as, a brutal encounter between a woman and APD officers. Buehler said the officers’ behavior
“As I saw the cops putting [the woman] into a torture move; it shocked the hell out of me,” Buehler said. “I just never imagined I would see that.”
When one of the officers, Patrick Oborski, noticed him filming, Buehler was arrested and charged with failure to obey a lawful order.
“When I was sitting in jail that night, it was just surreal. … I couldn’t believe what was happening,” Buehler said. “That’s when I realized that my world has changed.”
In April 2013, a grand jury dropped charges against Oborski of tampering with a governmental record and official oppression.
“It is clear that, after reviewing all of the evidence in these cases and applicable statutes, the grand jury found that interfering with officers during the course of their duties is, in fact, a crime,” Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement.
While filming police actions is generally lawful, Acevedo said failure to obey a lawful order and resisting arrest are not tolerated,
Since his first arrest, Buehler has been detained multiple times, once for disorderly conduct and a second time for failure to obey a lawful order. Buehler said APD’s failure to reprimand the officers who arrested him is part of why he’s suing the department.
“There is absolutely no accountability for police who commit a crime,” Buehler said. “This is a problem that certainly predates my incident.”
Buehler said the Office of the Police Monitor, which exists to handle cases of alleged violations of APD policy, along with APD’s Internal Affairs department, are not effective at holding APD officers accountable.
Biology freshman Aleyda Lopez said she thinks videotapes can serve as evidence in cases of police cruelty.
“The cops should not be afraid of being filmed, because if they act in a decent way they should have nothing to be afraid of,” Lopez said. “[Buehler] has been arrested because the cops do not want their corrupt behavior to be exposed.”
Soon after his first arrest, Buehler founded the Peaceful Streets Project, a nonpartisan police-accountability organization that organizes groups of citizens to film law enforcement officers.
Acevedo said APD strongly supports the right of members of the public to record, photograph or film APD officers.
“Evidence of the department’s support of this fundamental right can be found on the [Internet], which is replete with instances of the public lawfully recording the activities of departmental personnel,” Acevedo said.
In addition to APD, Buehler has also filed suit against the City of Austin, the police chief and several officers.
“We strongly believe that Mr. Buehler’s lawsuit is without merit and look forward to refuting his claims in court,” Acevedo said.