A grand jury has recommended a criminal-trespass charge against a Galveston police sergeant who arrested a self-described civil rights activist in November.
Police arrested Phillip Turner, of Austin, outside the Galveston Police Department headquarters, 601 54th St., on Nov. 4.
Turner, 25, 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.
Police Sgt. Archie Chapman was one of four officers who approached Turner while he was recording and asked for his identification.
Turner refused, and Chapman arrested him. Chapman then searched Turner’s car.
That search could be at issue in the trespassing case against Chapman. 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.
“I’m actually pretty shocked,” Turner said. “I’m just glad that he’s being held accountable for his actions.”
Assistant District Attorney James Haugh, who presented the case to the grand jury, said grand jurors could have returned a variety of charges, depending on how they viewed the evidence presented.
In a video of the arrest taken by Turner’s friend and posted on YouTube, Galveston police officers repeatedly ask whether Turner was filming license plates around the police station lot.
After he was handcuffed, the officers turned off the camera that Turner was using to film the building.
Acting Police Chief David Smith said Chapman remained on duty Friday, but had been limited to administrative duty.
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 more than 100 videos of him and police officers. He said that if the case went to trial he would return to Galveston to testify against the man who arrested him.
It is not illegal to film police officers or police facilities from a public street in Texas.
According to the Texas Penal Code, failure to identify occurs when a person refuses to give identifying information to an officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information. The charge carries a possible fine of up to $500.
City officials dismissed the charge against Turner in mid-November, days before his first scheduled municipal court appearance.
“It’s very important that people stand up for their rights, because when we don’t, those rights get trampled and eventually taken away from you,” Turner said.