Austin Police Defy Court Order; Still Holding Activist’s Memory Card
Back in August, PINAC reported about the arrest of two prominent police accountability activists in Austin, Texas, Antonio Buehler and Mike Bluehair, who were arrested for the crime of daring to film the police while doing their jobs.
The charges against the two activists have since been dismissed by the courts back in November with the Travis County Attorney’s Office stating they don’t believe they can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
We were unable to reach Buehler for comments, but we spoke to Mike Bluehair, founder of Film the Police Portland, about the events that took place that night.
He explained that he was simply trying to record police arresting Buehler when he reached out to grab Buehler’s camera as he was being taken to the ground, and then he was simultaneously arrested, which can be seen in the video below.
Mike Bluehair said, “I have a lot evidence that refutes what they claimed in the probable cause affidavit for my arrest. I have video that I think would demonstrate grounds for a potential lawsuit.”
The only problem is, Austin police confiscated that video upon his arrest and, even though they were ordered by an Austin judge to return Bluehair’s memory card containing all the video footage from that night, the department has yet to do so as he explains in the video below.
Instead, they sent him Corporal Quint Sebek’s footage of Sebek filming Buehler from his personal cell phone. But even that was a month past the date ordered by the judge according to Bluehair.
Bluehair said, “a judge signed an order to send back my equipment and they were past the date when they decided to comply–by a whole month. And when they did, they sent me Officer Sebek’s personal cell phone footage, which is in low resolution. I film in high resolution on a Sony. This came from a Canon camera that’s in low resolution. It’s obviously not my footage.”
We asked “Bluehair” if he believes the department made an honest mistake about mixing up his footage with Cpl Sebek’s. He replied, “I’m willing to be objective and say it’s possible, but I think they are more concerned with getting sued.”
In 2015, Dallas State Rep, Jason Villalba proposed a law that would impose restrictions on how close someone could be while filming police encounters, proposing a 25 ft. rule.
That law was ultimately shot down by the Texas Legislature, perhaps because lawmakers realize there’s already a law in place that is frequently abused by police because citizens film them called “Interfering with Public Duties”, which is the law APD used to violate Buehler and Bluehair’s 1st amendment rights in this case in order to arrest them.
Villalba’s law would have just given police another law to abuse citizen’s first amendment right to film police.
In the conversation we had with Mike Bluehair he made a few observations of his own:
“The thing I find most interesting concerning APD’s behavior is they can take time to hug drunk women coming out of bars and mug it up for camera’s in selfies with people partying. And they can have a drunk petting zoo with their horses, as long as those petting the horses are drunk women. But if we stand within 15 ft. of the horses, they say get back and claim we are agitating their horses. It’s an obvious double standard.”
We asked if he planned on coming back to Austin. He replied, “I’m tempted to move to Austin, because I think they deserve some of my special attention for a few months. I’ve been on over 300 copwatches without any incidents like this before. I could accomplish a lot down there.”
He went on to say:
“Sebek kind of remind me of a back biting dog. When you’re walking down a sidewalk, and you turn around to face it, it won’t bite you. But when you turn around and walk, he’ll bite you from the back. I’ve never experienced anything like that in Portland. I wasn’t even able to reach Antiono Buehler from where I was. And as he tried to reach out to hand me his camera, Cpl Sebek tackles me from behind. The funny thing about it all is, when you google Cpl Quint Sebek’s name and badge number, you get a bunch of stuff from Peaceful Streets Project where he’s doing stuff like this all the time. That’s kind of his digital legacy. The other thing that’s not so funny that I noticed is I don’t think APD would help anyone in Peaceful Streets if someone attacked them based on their behavior toward the activists. But I still plan on coming to Austin in a couple of months and giving Sebek some of my attention. I kinda feel like he deserves me.”