Here is something you don’t see everyday, a police officer getting caught on camera violating a citizen’s right to record in public and actually get disciplined for it.
In this case, a 28-day suspension without pay.
And the Leland Police Department is not supported by your typical mob-like union that would strong-arm the department into reversing that decision with backpay, so it looks to be a done deal.
Perhaps Sergeant James Keel didn’t get the memo that the recently scandal-plagued department is undergoing an image makeover under its new chief, Mike James, who vowed to bring respect and credibility back to the department after a quarter of the department was either fired or forced to resign since 2011, including the previous chief, over ongoing harassment against a female officer who was repeatedly shot in the crotch with simulated ammunition during training exercises.
It was only last month that another officer was forced to resign after an internal investigation found that he had violated policy by waiting until Monday to report a Friday shooting he was involved in, even though the shooting was determined to be justified, so that should have been an indicator that the new chief was making good on his word.
But none of this apparently crossed Keel’s mind when he was making an arrest on a drug suspect only to realize that a 19-year-old man was calmly video recording him from a respectable distance outside a gas station convenience store.
Keel ordered Gabriel Self to leave the area when he noticed him recording, but the teen asserted his right by pointing out he was not breaking the law.
That was when Keel ordered by him out of the area by accusing him of “interfering.”
“I’ll give you two seconds to get your tail out of here,” Keel can be heard saying before Self turns off the camera.
But Self was determined, so he turned his camera on again, this time standing inside the doors of a convenience store, which was when Keel charged at him and arrested him for “resisting, obstructing, or delaying a law enforcement officer.”
Police reports state Sgt. Keel told Self to leave the area again. As Self was explaining himself, Sgt. Keel arrested him. The charge was resisting, obstructing, or delaying a law enforcement officer.
Self was interfering with an investigation, according to the arrest report.
Self said Keel was simply standing in the parking lot, so he did not see how he could be interfering with anything.
“I didn’t know I was going to be arrested that night, which just stresses why you should video tape everything because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Self.
After an internal review, the Town of Leland suspended Sgt. Keel for 28 days without pay starting August 21. This is the first disciplinary action against Keel since he joined the department in August 2001.
The charges against Self have been dropped.
Mike James, who was recently named chief of the Leland Police Department, hopes the community will develop a new perception of the department following changes in the administration.
Those changes, James said, began on his first day at the helm, and will continue.
James said Leland officers were looking for leadership to adopt a new philosophy—one geared toward serving the people and the community instead of an administration that is self-serving.
“Before I came here there was a lot of bad press,” said James. “And what I have found [in] putting a new administrative team in place [is] these guys wanted to be a community-oriented police department.”