There’s nothing illegal about making a YouTube video to showcase your community unless you live in Madisonville, Kentucky, a city of less than 20,000 that calls itself the “best town on earth” where cops may arrest you for doing just that.
At least that’s what happened to Ian Rogers in August after he took several photographs of the Madisonville Police Station and ended up arrested and charged with harassment.
The 24-year-old restaurant worker could not afford an attorney, so he was represented by a public defender who refused to watch the video, urging him, instead, to plead guilty.
All because he wanted to showcase his community to the world.
Things were going well that day as he stood on a public sidewalk across the street from the police station. But several officers, who were standing outside of the station in the parking lot, asked him to stop taking pictures.
One of the officers became so alarmed by Rogers’ photography that she called dispatch to send another officer to speak with him.
Rogers video begins as Madisonville police officer Jeff Ethridge arrives on the scene.
Ethridge wastes no time detaining Rogers, claiming his photography efforts were causing concern and alarm which according to Ethridge, amounts to harassment in Madisonville.
However, the issue of taking photographs and video in public has been found by courts, time and time again, to be perfectly legal.
After a couple of minutes of the officer’s assertion that photography is harassment when it causes alarm, he tells Rogers that he is free to leave the area. But as Rogers turns to walk away, Ethridge orders him to put his hands behind his back as the video abruptly ends.
Rogers was arrested and charged with harassment. He spent the night in jail and was released after an arraignment hearing the next day.
The department released the following statement after Rogers video was posted to YouTube and they were inundated with complaint calls from around the country.
“The Madisonville Police Department would like to make a preliminary statement regarding a video released to a public social media website earlier on 11/29/2016. The Madisonville Police Department, just as it says in our oath, are sworn to protect the rights afforded by the constitution and do so to the best of our ability every day. We wholeheartedly support our citizens First Amendment rights, of which our nation’s courts have clearly defined that filming in public without any surrounding factors is legal.
Members of the Madisonville Police Department are reviewing the video in question and are investigating the facts surrounding the incident. It is our intent to investigate the matter thoroughly without making a judgment based on a 2-3 minute video. As with any investigation one must look at an entire set of circumstances surrounding an event, not one released solely by one individual motivated to slant public opinion toward one side. We are doing just that, investigating the event in its entirety. A very preliminary investigation has revealed the following at present time:
– The incident occurred approximately 7 weeks ago and was brought to our attention today.
– A female complainant contacted the Madisonville Police Department with a complaint of an individual singling her out in a repeated attempt by an individual to video her and her vehicle.
– After an interaction involving a member of Madisonville Police Department an individual was arrested for “Harassment”. The individual who was arrested later plead guilty to said charge of Harassment and was ordered to pay court costs. According to a statement made by the individual and later verified through Madisonville Police Department records.
– Members of the Madisonville Police Department temporarily suspended the ability of anyone to comment after an attempt was made from individuals outside our community to maliciously overwhelm our social media outlet thereby hindering our efforts to prevent intrusion. It will be reinstated as soon as possible as we have heard from members of the local community in their desire to discuss their feelings of their police force.”
Rogers says he was urged to plead guilty to the harassment charge by his public defender who he says would not even look at his video. Now he’s looking for a new attorney to help him file for post-conviction relief and a federal lawsuit. So if there are any attorneys in the Madisonville area who are interested in helping, they can contact Rogers by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also contact the Madisonville Police Department yourself and let them know what you think.
By phone (270)821-1720.
Correction: I originally identified the officer in the video as Jeff Edwards. The officer’s name has been corrected to Jeff Ethridge.