Maryland Man in Viral Video Breastfeeding Incident Reverses Conviction
A Maryland man convicted by a judge last year on questionable charges after a sheriff’s deputy accused his girlfriend of breastfeeding their unrestrained baby in the passengers’s seat as he pulled into a gas station had the conviction reversed on appeal last month after taking the case before a jury.
But the Charles County Sheriff’s Office is still refusing to return his girlfriend’s phone that recorded the incident.
And that’s despite the fact they confiscated it illegally in the first place.
The only reason the video went viral last year is because deputies submitted an edited version of the footage before his October 2015 trial.
Nevertheless, winning the appeal was a sweet victory for Juley Harris, especially considering he used a public defender throughout the whole ordeal.
Usually, public defenders are unable to invest much time into their cases because they are overworked and underpaid.
And sometimes they have a conflict of interest as we saw in the case of Tiffanie Hupp, whose public defender never disclosed the fact that she was married to the police supervisor of the cop who arrested Hupp for trying to stop him from killing her dog.
But Ariel Werner was different. She defended Harris during his October 2015 bench trial less than two months into her job as a Maryland public defender and less than 18 months after graduating from the New York University School of Law.
And then when Judge Leon Robert Cooper found him guilty, she agreed to represent him during his appeal, which then brought the case before a jury.
And the jury fortunately had enough sense to side with justice on February 24, 2016.
“I want to commend her, she did a great job,” said Harris during a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
But now it’s going to take a civil lawsuit to get them to return his girlfriend’s phone.
His girlfriend, Shanita Simms, who was not arrested, has already filed a notice of intent to sue the agency for seizing her phone without a warrant or subpoena.
And Harris has already met with a civil attorney to discuss his own suit against the Charles County Sheriff’s Office for false arrest, but that attorney has not confirmed whether he will take the case or not.
He has set up a Go Fund Me account to help him raise money for a civil rights attorney in case an attorney does not want to take the case on contingency.
The arrest took place in December 2014 after Harris pulled into a Dash In gas station early one morning with Simms in the passenger’s seat and their two children in the back, including their one-month-old daughter as well as their three-year-old daughter.
Harris pumped gas into the car, then stepped inside the station’s convenience store to heat up a pizza.
When he stepped back out, Charles County sheriff’s deputy R. Gass had pulled up behind his car and began demanding his identification, accusing him of driving with an unrestrained baby in the front seat, claiming he had seen Simms breastfeeding the baby.
Harris pointed out that the baby was sitting restrained in the back seat along with the three-year-old, but Gass claimed the baby was placed in the seat after they had pulled into the station.
Harris handed over his identification and Gass began writing a citation as a female deputy pulled up.
Notably upset, Harris then asked for a supervisor, thinking that would clear things up.
But that only made things worse as the supervisor, Sergeant Smith, got into his face and began yelling and threatening to arrest him.
That was when Simms started recording.
“You see all these people around?” Smith asked. “I’m going to lock you up for disturbing the peace.”
But there was maybe one other person in the gas station who was busy pumping his own gas.
And gas station surveillance footage that was obtained by the Charles County Sheriff’s Office within hours of the arrest was never admitted as evidence into the trial.
“Can we just get the ticket and go?” Simms asked when realizing Smith was intent on escalating the situation with her boyfriend.
But that prompted Smith to turn his attention to Simms where he started pushing and shoving her, ordering her back inside the car.
“Don’t touch me,” she said. “Get the hell off me.”
“I can touch you if I want,” Smith said.
“Why is he putting his hands on her? What the fuck is he doing?” Harris asked from behind them.
That was when Smith turned his attention back towards Harris.
“Now you’re under arrest, put your hands on the car right now,” he ordered.
Harris did as he was told, allowing himself to be handcuffed.
“You move and you get tased,” Smith threatened.
After they placed Harris in the back of the patrol car, Smith returned and seized Simms’ phone as evidence, which is illegal to do without a warrant or subpoena.
The only exception would be if there were “exigent circumstances,” meaning the deputies would need to have a reasonable suspicion that Simms was intent on destroying the footage.
The United States Department of Justice made that very clear in its statement of interest to the Baltimore Police Department in 2012.
The USDOJ also said that police must obtain a warrant before searching the contents of a seized phone.
But Harris does not believe they did that in this case because nothing in the case file indicated they obtained a warrant before downloading the footage and submitting it as evidence.
In fact, the seizing of the phone was never addressed during either trial.
Harris also said they removed maybe a minute or two minutes of footage from what she had recorded , specifically from then beginning and the end of her recording.
The one vital part they did not include was the actual confiscation. The video just ends after they handcuff Harris.
And Simms was very adamant about her right to record, so it’s unlikely she would just turn off the camera when there was still a chance she would be arrested.
In an interview with PINAC last year, Simms stated the following:
“I was still videotaping him and he told me to give him my phone because it was his evidence,” Simms said.
“I sat in the car and started crying and he put all his weight on me. I was leaning over on the drivers seat, trying to keep my phone away from him but he took it.”
And once he seized her phone, a Samsung, he demanded her passcode, but she refused to give it to him.
“He said, ‘we have ways to get into it,’” she said.
Meanwhile, Harris is sitting handcuffed in the back of the patrol car watching the sergeant seize her phone.
“He is two times bigger than me, she is two times smaller than me,” he said. “I’m seeing his whole body in the car and he comes back out with the phone.”
Harris ended up charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a lawful order and driving with an unrestrained child in the front seat.
When he was released from jail, he went straight to the gas station to see if he could obtain the surveillance footage, but was told the deputies has already been by and taken it.
But when asked to produce it in court, the deputies said they did not have it, offering no explanation as to why they did not have it.
However, the two male deputies testified in court that there was a crowd of ten to 20 people who had gathered to watch the scenario, which is how they were basing their disorderly charge against him.
The surveillance video might have also confirmed whether Simms was breastfeeding the unrestrained baby when they pulled in as Gass had claimed.
“When I spoke to some of the jury after the trial, they were telling that they kept looking for the people, even looking at the reflections of the window, but they could only see one person,” Harris said.
Harris was initially sentenced to serve 40 hours of community service as well as two years of probation, but that sentenced was put on hold until after the appeal was completed.
After he was convicted by the judge last year and the video began going viral, published on news sites from across the globe, another Charles County sheriff’s deputy named Ron Walls began libeling Harris by accusing him of regularly committing domestic violence against Simms.
Walls, who goes by Rocko Dubbs on Facebook, where he regularly posts photos of himself flexing his muscles for his friends to admire, stated the following:
But Harris said he has never been accused of domestic violence and when we reached out to department for evidence, they were unable to provide any evidence to back up Dubbs’ claims.
Harris said there were incidents between his girlfriend and her mother at one point in the past when the mother lived with them, but he has never laid a hand on his girlfriend.
“That was always between them, not me,” he said.
Harris, 29, a hip hop musician who goes by DC Prophitt and performs at various venues, wrote a song about the experience, which he turned into a video using the footage from the arrest.
That video is below, beneath the actual video of the arrest. And below that video are the lyrics to the song.
In describing his music, Harris says he is a “very humble person who suffered alot of pain in life. And my music is a reflection of the pain.”
I RAP ABOUT THIS PAYNE
I RAP ABOUT MY TROUBLES
I RAP ABOUT THE CHANGE
THAT WE WANT INSIDE THESE JUNGLES
Why I feel like every judge gottuh prove to me
That his judgments are the best for the community
Why my race , ain’t racing for unity ?
When they want us all extinct “used 2 be”
Or leave u sitting in a cell
Where u urine see
Your success is a failure for their
They don’t want you have a dollar
And so currently
I been all about my dollars
And I’m the father 2 my kids
They don’t wanna see
Type of father tell my kids
They don’t wanna be
Just like me
Oh no I want you 2 be better den
Don’t think like me
Oh no I want you thinking better den
Better than me
I Hope heaven 4 Gs
And If I leave
Cuz of profiling
Who kill my rights
if I’m right
Then honor rights
Don’t got that right
that’s not right
That’s cuz I’m not white
Lil parrannah in the sea
2 these great White’s
How you ruin folks life
And go to sleep at night
Break a father or take a father
From his family then
Structure mothers to depend
On the government
they Don’t like they mother
Or they father den
We on the river
this just modern day
They use the bible as a guide
They say they follow it
I Don’t know how
When Legalizing gay marriges
Some how some way
they proud to say
they really shot a kid
And wonder why
my Hoodie on
Wit my fully on me
Peace 2 treyvon
That’s a pain
A black mother feel
How your son can get killed
And bastard can still
No conviction of guilt
But I’m still stuck wit Charges
For a lie from a officer
Who said I was feeding my daughter
In a car and I wassnt
They want me fold I ain’t budging
But this the life that I’m stuck in
Enemy 2 the public
Why not just rap about my troubles
Why not just rap bout my pain
Why not just rap bout dis jungle
N How we need it to change
Lion heart but I’m humble
It’s kinda dark where I’m from
I RAP ABOUT THIS PAYNE
I RAP ABOUT MY TROUBLES
I RAP ABOUT THE CHANGE
THAT WE WANT INSIDE THESE JUNGLES
VERSE 2 :
THEY said I never kept it cool
They cut the tape thats a lie
All Your Officers just Got up on
the Stand and just lied
cops swearing under
Oath u testify and den lie
Yall worser den these rats
Dat keep tellin yall lie
And get away wit every
Word as if it’s truth when u lien
Take a man from his
Fam with no truth
In this land im living in
and I’m posed to be proud
Why i always fear the feds
When they comming around
Like these dreads in my head
Make me get on the ground
Always prayed in my prayers
I could turn back turn it around
But them just prayers dat i prayed
Cuz And no turning round
I’m just humble man my heart
Still Suffer for Mike Brown
Still say it
4 Sandra bland
You don’t know these
You could never understand
Imma product of this poverty
And partial state property
My Wisdom of oppression
My most valuable lessons