A Texas police chief said he was in fear for his life when he staged a fake press conference last month to arrest a group of activists and journalists, seizing their phones and cameras as "evidence."
Now an attorney has filed a lawsuit against Leon Valley Police Chief Joseph Salvaggio, who still has not returned the cameras, including my phone when all I was doing was documenting the protest, claiming that he had received death threats through comments on our live streamed videos.
The lawsuit was filed electronically on the Fourth of July as a symbolic gesture on behalf of our Constitutional rights, which were trampled upon by Chief Salvaggio and his police force.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Solomon Radner, highlights three incidents where either activists were ordered to stop recording or had their recording devices seized, even though the activists were on public property where nobody had an expectation of privacy.
Radner is representing 11 activists in his suit. That is just the first lawsuit of more to come. The arrests were captured in the above video.
Along with phone, Leon Valley also seized my drivers license on June 23 and have yet to return them, even though I was there as a reporter to cover the protest.
And they also confiscated David Worden's camera, who was also covering the protest on behalf of Photography is Not a Crime, so we will be filing a separate lawsuit soon.
Leon Valley had been the site of protests by Constitutional auditors for weeks after an auditor was arrested and injured at the police station while he was recording inside of what officials are calling a secured area.
That led more auditors to travel to Leon Valley and protest the arrest which led to more activists being arrested and their cameras seized as as evidence.
One Activist, Jack Miller, had his home raided in the middle of the night by Leon Valley police and had all of his computers and guns seized.
All of these events led to a planned protest this past weekend, June 22-23, where the police chief, Joseph P. Salvaggio, invited those who were present to a press conference in front of the municipal building. When everyone showed up to attend the press conference, the chief ordered his officers to arrest several activists who had been live streaming the protest throughout the day, telling everyone else that they were detained as witnesses.
Everyone was told that their cellular phones and cameras would be seized as evidence.
We had both been following the story for weeks and were very interested in how things would unfold at this protest. We were there with more than a dozen activists and auditors who came in from all over the country. We were also there with other observers who were excited to meet their favorite auditors and wanted to offer their support.
I arrived at the protest late Friday evening on June 22 as the event was breaking up. Auditors, activists and observers had been at the building protesting with signs and by simply video recording for several hours. The protest remained peaceful throughout the first day.
Saturday, Worden and I returned sometime after lunch and I made two brief live streams of the events on YouTube. The footage from the two live streams that I shot were not stored on my phone. They were stored on the YouTube server.
Late in the day, Chief Salvaggio walked out to the area where activists had staged and told everyone he would be holding a press conference in twenty minutes to make a few announcements. We were all gearing up to leave and grab dinner when the chief came out but decided to hang around and attend the announced event.
As we gathered around in front of the municipal building and waited for the chief, we noticed that police had started massing in the back of the building, and we all started worrying there was an ulterior motive behind the chief's press conference.
Still, I was there to cover the event, as credentialed media, and assumed I would be free from any of the previous seizing of video equipment and live streaming devises.
The chief came out promptly twenty minutes after making the announcement and began ordering the arrests of several activists who were live streaming including YouTube Auditors James Freeman, Clash With Bao, Ohio Guardian 2.0, Buckeye in the Sky,Ethic Instead, as well as PINAC reporter David Worden (News Now Houston).
Those people were immediately brought inside. All of them were handcuffed. The rest of us, all observers, were told we were detained and would have our property seized as evidence.
There were about ten of us left on the sidewalk waiting in the 100 degree-plus Texas sun. One of the people waiting, Kevin Egan, eventually had to be taken to the hospital after succumbing to the heat.
We were told by the chief that someone had made death threats in the chat section of the live streams of several of the activists who had been broadcasting events throughout the day.
We were told that in Texas, live streamers are responsible for the comments and threats that others make during their broadcast. We were told that each and everyone of us would be held personally responsible. We were told that we were being detained as witnesses and that if we did not cooperate with their investigation, by giving up our property and our identification, that we would be arrested.
Because Texas is not a stop and ID state, citizens are not required to identify themselves unless they are under arrest. I was willing to give up my identification, and did cooperate by handing Officer Rivera my Louisiana Driver's License.
A very rude Captain came by and snatched my phone out of my hand and out of the hands of everyone else who remained outside. The captain told us that he didn't work for us, that he only worked for the citizens of Leon Valley.
They were extremely aggressive to us, threatening us, and telling anyone who protested the detainment that they shouldn't have come to Leon Valley.
Also on scene were law enforcement officers from San Antonio Police Department, Texas State Police and Olmos Park. Those officers ignored our complaints and stood stoically watching our rights be violated and our property be stolen out of our hands.
The chief of police told all of the detained witnesses that we could have our devises returned to us if we signed a consent form for them to download the video.
We all agreed to do it, under duress, but when we were eventually told we were free to go, the chief had changed his mind and our property remained in the custody of Leon Valley Police Department.
The actions of the chief probably do not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Salvaggio's career. He was fired by the San Antonio Police Department for cheating on his Captain exam. He sued the department and with the help of his friends in the police union there, he was able to get his job back, back pay, and his promotion. Read more about that here.
I still do not have my phone, the tool I use the most to cover news stories for PINAC. Leon Valley Police Department has it and their not taking any calls from me to tell me when I will get it back. Of course, that was the whole point of taking our property. They want to silence the message by stealing the tools people use to spread it. Everyone watching this should be terrified at the actions authorities are taking to silence the voices of those people that shine a light on their corruption.
Carlos Miller contributed to this report.