Florida Man Arrested On Wiretapping Charges For Recording Traffic Stop
A Florida man was arrested on wiretapping charges after video recording police making a traffic stop from across the street, spending 24 hours in jail and setting the stage for a potential lawsuit.
But first, Steve Horrigan, must find a lawyer and beat the criminal felony charge hanging over him.
Horrigan, a regular Photography is Not a Crime reader who goes by Steveo, said North Port police confiscated his phone and have yet to return it to him.
While the Florida wiretapping law requires consent from all parties being recorded, it makes an exception when there is not an expectation of privacy.
Furthermore, Horrigan says he was so far away from the officers, that he wasn’t able to record their audio, making the arrest even more unlawful.
This is how Horrigan described his experienced in an email:
I was recording a traffic stop with my smart phone across the street from my condo. There were six unmarked police cars stopping a small Toyota like car. It wasn’t a felony traffic stop, but there were at least 10 cops milling around the scene.(North Port, FL agency North Port Police) I was recording from across the street when one of the cops took umbrage with my recording. He walked up to me and told me it was too dangerous to be there and that I should go home.
I went over to the public sidewalk about 150 ft from the car that they had stopped because I wanted to get video of the drug dog going around the car. The same cop came up to me and told me that it was illegal to video tape the police (his exact words). He asked me for ID. I gave him my name and BD and then said that I would prefer to remain silent and needed a lawyer.
They placed me under arrest, took my phone and took me to jail. They charged me with 934.02 1B (I think) Unauthorized interception of communication and resisting arrest before being arrested. The judge almost denied the complaint because the PD said there was no probable cause to make the arrest, but he said that the State Attorney would have to figure it out and gave me ROR. The original bond was $1750. I was in jail about 24 hrs. Jail here isn’t too bad, food is horrible though. The other guys were happy to eat it though.
I’ve been following your web site for about three years and have digested just about everything you have put out since your first bust for resisting arrest before being arrested. Hopefully, I’ll get my phone back with the SD card intact. One of the cops shouted at me in the police car that, “Now I guess you’ll do what you’re told” I couldn’t help thinking, gee, I wonder what Carlos would do. I can’t send you the footage, obviously, but for some reason I don’t think that they are going to delete the footage or take the card. I told the PD that I wasn’t close enough to get any audio from the cops anyway and my video would prove that but according to the cops the footage was obtained illegally, so it wouldn’t be admissible, so they should give me my phone back. She couldn’t ask the judge for my phone back yet.
I told Horrigan that I would have done the same thing he did. Once police make a decision to arrest you, the best thing to do is remain professional just in case they are recording you.
Let them be the unprofessional ones, which seems to be the case here. Send Chief Kevin Vespia an email, letting him know that we are keeping our eyes on this.
If there are any lawyers in the area (southwest coast of Florida) who are interested in taking his case, please leave a comment here or email me.
UPDATE: I had sent Chief Vespia an email with my story, suggesting it my be time to retrain his officers. To my surprise, he responded to my email with the police version of the story. He also called me Corey.
He said Horrigan was also charged with obstructing a criminal investigation as well as wiretapping.
He said that Horrigan walked up to the traffic stop, which differs from what Horrigan said. I called Horrigan for comment but he did not answer.
Vespia also said the wiretapping charge was secondary to the initial charge of obstructing.
But he doesn’t acknowledge that even if Horrigan was, in deed, obstructing the investigation, there still would be no basis for a wiretapping charge because the cops did not have an expectation of privacy.
Obstructing is a misdemeanor. Wiretapping is a felony.
It’s obvious the cops wanted to teach Horrigan a lesson, even if they had to manipulate the charges to label him a felon.
And for that, they should get sued.
Vespia also cut and paste an article from a local newspaper about the incident, which I was not able to find online, but Horrigan did mention that the Sarasota Herald-Tribune was looking into getting the dash cam video from the incident.
I cut and pasted his response in its entirety along with my email back to him below:
I certainly appreciate your reaching out to us. I am sure you are aware that there are 3 sides to every story. Below is the local article related to this case and you are welcome to obtain a copy of the arrest affidavit from our Records Section by contacting Records Supervisor, Jennifer Harrison at 941-429-7307 or firstname.lastname@example.org . I can assure you that recordings occur everyday and are usually not an issue. An issue arises when subjects do not heed the officers warnings and begin to encroach upon them as they are executing a high risk traffic stop of known gang members. I am sure you are aware of the officers killed in the line of duty statistics which can be viewed at http://www.odmp.org/search/year?year=2011 . We try to ensure our members go home safely every night.
In regards to this particular case, Mr. Horrigan refused to comply with the officers orders and was arrested for obstructing a criminal investigation. The charge of interception of communication was a secondary offense that Mr. Horrigan was charged with. As always there are more sides to the story, and if Mr. Horrigan would have stayed across the street and video recorded, therefore obeying our officers and not jeopardizing their safety, he would have had no problems. The recording is not what got him arrested initially, his actions by encroaching the officers and interfering with the them during a high risk traffic stop did. Mr. Horrigan’s actions required our officers to divert their attention from the high risk stop to Mr. Horrigan’s failure to obey their numerous commands and approach upon their positions. Fortunately, the occupants of the vehicle during the high risk stop were also arrested and I am proud to say our members went home to their family’s safely that night and able to return for their duty shift the next night to ensure our citizens are protected.
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns and please stay safe.
NORTH PORT — A man recording a high-risk traffic stop by members of the North Port Police Department was arrested Wednesday evening after refusing to comply with officers’ instructions to stop.
According to an NPPD report, just before 7 p.m. Wednesday near the intersection of Herbison Avenue and South Biscayne Drive, several officers were in the middle of a traffic stop of known gang members in relation to an active criminal investigation when Stephen Phillips Horrigan, 57, of the 4900 block of South Biscayne Drive, began to record the incident on his cellphone.
The report states officers repeatedly told Horrigan, who was standing in the median about 15 feet away, to stop shooting video footage of the incident for safety reasons, but also because he was impairing officers’ ability to focus on the investigation. Horrigan moved away, according to the report, but then returned, standing behind NPPD vehicles and continuing to record.
Officers told Horrigan to stop 10 to 15 more times, but he told them, “This is a free country,” and didn’t comply, the report states. When officers asked Horrigan who he was, he gave them his name and date of birth, but refused to provide more information. He then approached one officer and showed him he was still recording in violation of the interception of oral communication statute, according to the report.
Horrigan was charged with resisting an officer and illegal interception of communication/eavesdropping. He was released from the Sarasota County Jail after posting $1,750 bond.
Here is my email I sent back to him.
Thank you for your response. I posted in its entirety in the article I wrote along with some added commentary.
Even if Horrigan was obstructing, there was still no basis for the wiretapping charge because the officers did not have an expectation of privacy.
Just last week, a judge convicted a man in Tampa for obstructing because he did not move back far enough from the officers while he was recording them.
If what you say is true, then Horrigan will also be convicted of obstructing.
But there is no way he will be convicted on wiretapping. And the officers should have known better than to charge him with that.
Because now it comes across as if they were trying to teach him a lesson by charging him with a felony in addition to the original misdemeanor.
And that is where your officers lose credibility.
Again, I do appreciate your response and I would love to continue discussing this on a professional level as I have been writing about these issues for five years now.
BTW, my name is Carlos, not Corey. No offense taken.
Here is an update with Horrigan’s response to the chief’s claims.