PINAC reporter Phillip Turner helped police catch an active shooter at Austin’s SXSW festival while cop watching on the city’s famed Sixth Street Saturday night.
It made for a pair of unlikely allies; a cop watcher seeking to hold police accountable for random acts of wanton violence who wound up capturing a citizen shooting his gun in a crowded area while he recorded with his camera.
If it wasn’t for the assistance of Turner, the police likely wouldn’t have arrested the suspect at all because they didn’t even know what he looked like.
Part of the reason Turner, a man reluctant to trust police, went to police about the active shooter is because he thought they were arresting the wrong guy when the chaos resulting from the gun shots ensued.
We asked how he felt about working with cops when he usually works to expose police victimizing people or violating their rights.
“I don’t regret what I did. That guy put people in a dangerous situation. But I rushed in to tell the officer who the guy was because at the time I thought they were arresting the wrong guy.”
“I approached the first officer and tried to tell him who it was in the video, but he was no help,” Turner said. “Then a supervisor walked up and asked me if I could show it to him on my camera.”
Turner, usually a critic of police tactics, approached officers and told them he’d seen the shooter and knew that he was wearing a blue sweatshirt.
“They had no idea who he was. I wish I could have recorded inside of the police van, but I had to stop recording because I was showing the officers what happened. They would not have caught this guy if it wasn’t for me,” he said.
He did not want to turn over his video over to Austin police, who have a habit of not returning videos and cameras, but he offered to share it with them from his camera.
He then went inside of the police van and projected his video onto the side of the van. Police then took pictures of his projection and sent it to officers who then took off looking for him while APD had officers stationed at “every intersection”, according to Turner.
“We watched the video,” Turner explained. “They took pictures of the front of him and his jacket.”
Turner said it was only two to three minutes after they obtained the pictures from him when they caught the suspect with the handgun in his possession.
Turner suggested that, overall, police did a pretty good job, “He didn’t even make it far. Even if he ran, they had officers at each intersection. So they had officers at every corner looking for him. Not more than three minutes later they caught the guy and found him with the handgun.”
We asked our correspondent, who has been detained for an unreasonable amount of time by Austin Police when he recorded an Austin Police substation during what we call a First Amendment audit, how long he was inside of the police van.
Turner, who’s personal policy is not to talk to police said, “I was talking to them the whole time until they caught the guy. They gave me their card and I gave them my ID this time,” he emphasized. “Because I was a witness. But it didn’t take them long to catch him, so I wasn’t in there long.”
He was detained for approximately 25 minutes in June of 2015 because he refused to ID himself after Austin police detained him for recording their station.
“The supervisor was asking me if I could send him a copy of the video,” he explained. “I said I’ll figure out a way to get it to you.”
He went on to say, “They didn’t come out and ask if I had the footage. I went to them and told them I had the footage. This guy should be off the streets. Usually, I sit back and let the cops handle things. But this was a different situation.”
Turner was motivated to attend the festival with camera in-hand and batteries charged after he saw a video that was released by of APD Officer Cameron Caldwell macing a handcuffed black man inside of a paddy wagon.
At about 1:20 a.m., there was an argument between two groups of people and it got heated with the groups exchanging words and posturing.
The two groups then faced off for a short amount of time and then went in various directions into the crowd.
In the first few seconds of the video, you can see the man wearing a blue and white jacket with the impression of a gun in his right jacket pocket and acting aggressively towards the group involved in the conflict.
PINAC reached out, but APD would could not confirm the identity of the man who allegedly fired shots into the air during SXSW, but Phillp Turner identified the shooter as the man in the blue and white jacket.
About a minute-and-a-half later, shots were fired. Police then began ordering everyone in the vicinity to get on the ground!
After things settled down in the street, Turner approached the officers and assisted in helping them identify the shooter.
He ended our conversation by saying:
“That was one of the craziest things I’ve ever filmed. But what happened tonight was a good example of what cops and copwatchers can do together. But for that to happen, police have to get rid of the bad apples. Bad apples are what makes it difficult to go out and capture things because cops are busy trying to cover their bad behavior and misconduct. It’s the animosity cops have towards copwatchers that make it difficult for them to potentially work together. In a situation like this, there could be collaboration between us and the police that would provide a service to the community. We are doing a service for the community like the cops. Pretty much anything we see we put it on camera. If cops won’t let us do that, it limits our service to the community.”