A South Carolina sheriff’s deputy who attacked a man who was recording him making a traffic stop was justified in his actions because “officers are being ambushed across the country,” according to a high ranking officer within the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office.
But somebody needs to tell Chief Deputy Jeremy Baker the Constitution does not get suspended because the deputy is too scared to do his job.
And somebody needs to tell Sergeant Shane Cook of the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office that preventing a citizen from quietly observing police activity from a respectable distance is not a “lawful order” as he claims in his report.
It is in fact a civil rights violation which is why Jason Abbott has a very strong case should he decide to follow through with a lawsuit against the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office.
But the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office is maintaining that the only policy violation from that night was Sergeant Cook not wearing his body camera at the time. The video indicates his actions were much more egregious than a policy violation.
Abbott was arrested on October 5 on the contempt of cop charges of disorderly conduct and interference after the deputy first accused him of being drunk, claiming he was staggering and slurring his words – even though Abbott says he did not have anything to drink that night.
Sergeant Cook also claimed he was in fear for his life because Abbott had one hand in his pocket while recording with the other hand but Abbott says he was just trying to keep warm.
“It was chilly out so I had one hand in my pocket,” Abbott said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
Abbott said he measured the distance between himself and where the deputy was standing and it was 180 feet which is 60 yards, more than half the length of a football field.
The sheriff’s office claimed it did not arrest Abbott for recording but nevertheless will begin training their deputies that citizens have the right to record indicating that is the exact reason he arrested Abbott. Abbott said his phone is passcode protected, one reason why the video may have survived.
The video shows Cook kept flashing his flash light towards Abbott for more than a minute – a common technique cops use to block citizens from recording – before even speaking to him.
According to ABC News 4:
The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office will conduct a roll call training to remind officers they are not allowed to charge suspects for hindering for filming, according to Chief Deputy Jeremy Baker. The arresting deputy admitted he did not know hindering was not sufficient evidence to charge someone with hinder, however, his report clarified he didn’t arrest Abbot because of filming during the October incident.
“Right now, officers are being ambushed across the country,” Chief Deputy Baker said. The arresting deputy’s incident report confirmed he was not wearing a body camera during the arrest because it was on a charging cradle in his squad car.
“That was a violation, a policy violation,” Baker added. “He realized he had his body camera in the cradle charging. So he removed it and put it on soon as he realized that.”
“If a law enforcement officer can do that to me, they’ll do it to anyone,” Abbot said of the incident. “You should be allowed to stand somewhere and video police doing what they do. You should be able to.”
Officials confirm that deputy will not face any discipline.
Like many sheriff’s departments in South Carolina, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office believes it is above the law. It was only yesterday the New York Times reported that ten South Carolina sheriffs have been convicted of crimes over the past decade and two more are awaiting trial on criminal charges.
Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis’ credibility came into question while running for office in 2015 when it was revealed he possessed a college degree from a diploma mill four years after it had been shut down.
Charges have been dismissed against Abbott and he has been speaking to an attorney about possibly filing a lawsuit against the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office. Read Cook’s arrest report here.
The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office is a regular feature on the television show Live PD which never fails to put a positive spin on the agencies it features. It also participated in the public relations campaign of posting video of themselves lip synching to music so it is evident the department is not very camera shy.
It just wants to be sure it controls the narrative when it comes to cameras.
Watch the shortened edited video above or the full unedited video below.