A Georgia cop couldn’t tell PINAC investigative reporter Jeff Gray what crime he was committing, so he came up with something new.
That might work on some, but PINAC investigator Jeff Gray is no stranger to the kinds of lies cops conjure up when they’re uncomfortable with someone recording with a camera.
Gray, who has been conducting civil rights investigations for PINAC for years, knows recording anything from public view from a public space is a First Amendment-protected activity.
Also there is no mention of cameras in the Georgia voter intimidation law, which states that “any person who uses or threatens to use force and violence, or acts in any other manner to intimidate any other person …. shall be guilty of a felony.”
And that knowledge came in handy on May 22 when Grey encountered a woman in St. Marys, Georgia during the primary elections where he and fellow investigator Mike Hoffman traveled to conduct a civil rights investigation at a polling place held at a Salvation Army.
Gray wanted to document the primaries, which marked the first time in history that an African American woman has become the state’s nominee for Governor from either major party.
“That’s a pretty historic event. Mike and I thought it was important to cover it,” Gray told PINAC in a telephone interview last week.
“I wanted to find out if, on a day that marks a positive milestone for civil liberties, if [authorities] would uphold our civil rights to document the voting process,” he explained.
That’s not exactly what he found.
Instead, Gray encountered a woman walking out of a polling place who apparently had a different perspective about him being there. And she doesn’t appear too happy about it either.
The video shows the woman charging towards Gray.
Meanwhile, Hoffman is standing across the street recording Gray’s interaction with the woman, showing Gray backing up from the woman who keeps approaching him, accusing him of wrongdoing.
“Ma’am, can you please step away from me?” Gray politely asks the woman.
“I want to know why you’re taking my picture,” the woman says. “I find that appalling that you can be here doing that.”
“You find it appalling that someone’s engaged in Constitutionally protected activity? On election day?” Gray asks.
“Yeah,” the woman says while dramatically clutching her chest.
Eventually, the woman, whose name is not known, calls police.
When a St. Mary’s police officer show up, he tries to intimidate Gray in to leaving by telling him what he’s doing is “against the law” and even considered by law to be “voter intimidation.”
“Because what you’re doing here, under the law, is . . . considered . . . voter intimidation,” the officer says, attempting to lie to Gray to get him to leave.
“Stop videos and taking photos. Because, it’s making people uneasy.”
The officer even tries to tell Gray that “under the law” he has to be 100 meters away from the voting area, even if he was on the sidewalk, which the officer said applied to media and political campaigning “laws.”
“This is what the law is,” he said. “If you want to go, I don’t know; I don’t have a measuring device. There should be markers along the road.”
But Gray, who actually knows the law, doesn’t leave and asks for a supervisor instead.
Eventually, St. Mary’s police officer Rose shows up and tries the same number on Hoffman, who is recording across the street, and tells him he has to stand 100 meters away.
“You see that area over there. That’s going to be the area of . . . voter safety.”
Hoffman asks officer Rose, badge 116, for the statute that states he can’t stand closer to the polling building and record.
“I’ll look it up for you,” Rose says, before walking away and pretending to go look up the law he made up.
Hoffman and Gray then get on the phone and call St. Mary’s Police Sergeant Isernhagen.
When Isenhagen arrives, Gray asks him for clarification about the distance area and he eventually admits the reason the police showed up were because of people calling with complaints.
Georgia law states campaigners and pollsters must stand at least 150 feet from a polling place during election day, which is the law these cops were referring when saying Gray needed to stand 100 meters away.
One hundred meters is 328 feet, a huge difference.
Georgia law also forbids anybody from recording inside a polling place, including taking your own selfie, but that does not apply to Gray in this case.
Eventually, everything is all squared up and Gray and Hoffman were able to resume recording and went on their way.
Watch the full video of incident below.