Galveston County accepted an offer Tuesday to pay $10,000 to settle a claim made by a self-described civil rights activist who accused a sheriff’s office employee of helping wrongfully searching his car.
In November, police arrested Phillip Turner, of Austin, outside the Galveston Police Department headquarters, 601 54th St. Turner was at the police station conducting what he called a “First Amendment audit,” a test of local police officers’ knowledge of laws regarding the right to film law enforcement.
“Obviously, there’s a huge misunderstanding about the law,” Turner said Tuesday. “This is an educational approach I take.”
Turner is a correspondent for an Internet publication called Photography Is Not a Crime, which is dedicated to monitoring acts of police censorship. He also manages a YouTube page, The Battousai, where he has posted videos of him and police officers.
Galveston police Sgt. Archie Chapman arrested Turner after he refused to identify himself to officers.
Turner’s attorney, Kervyn Altaffer, accused Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Gilbert Villareal, who worked in the jail, of taking his client’s car keys and using them to find Turner’s car while Turner was in custody. Altaffer accused Chapman of then searching Turner’s car.
In February, Chapman was indicted by a grand jury and charged with criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor offense. The Texas Penal Code defines criminal trespass as a crime that occurs when a person enters onto the property of another, while knowing that such entry was forbidden. The charge carries a possible jail term of up to 180 days, as well as a fine of up to $2,000.
On Tuesday, the commissioners court voted unanimously to accept the offer to resolve claims against the county and Villareal. Altaffer asserted that his client’s First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
After a grand jury decided not to charge Villareal, the sheriff’s office completed an internal investigation of the incident, Sheriff Henry Trochesset said. Villareal was demoted from sergeant to deputy, Trochesset said.
The sheriff’s office is implementing additional education about arrest and seizure laws as a result of the disciplinary action, Trochesset said.