An Austin civil rights activist says he was illegally arrested by the Galveston Police Department on Wednesday evening.

Phillip Turner, 25, of Austin was arrested outside the Galveston police station at 5:10 p.m.

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.

The police department failed that audit, Turner said, when they arrested him, charged him with failing to identify himself to police officers and then held him in custody for 16 hours.

“It’s OK for the officer to ask questions, but he can’t demand it,” Turner said.

Turner said that he and a friend arrived at the Galveston police station just before 5 p.m. on Wednesday. After about 15 minutes, four Galveston police officers confronted him, asked him what he was doing and told him to identify himself.

Turner refused, was handcuffed and brought to the nearby jail.

Acting Police Chief David Smith confirmed Turner’s arrest on Thursday morning after the incident had already been written about on the First Amendments rights website, photographyisnotacrime.com.

Turner was arrested not because he was filming, but because officers were suspicious of his motives, Smith said.

In a video of the arrest, taken by Turner’s friend and posted on YouTube, Galveston police officers repeatedly ask if 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.

Turner is a correspondent for photographyisnotacrime.com, 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.

Wednesday is not the first time he has been arrested after filming outside a Texas police station. In September, he was arrested after police found him filming outside the Fort Worth Police Department.

In October, Turner filed a lawsuit against the Round Rock Police Department, whose officers arrested Turner in July 2014 for failing to identify himself. In the lawsuit, Turner claimed his Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

Turner said that he’s had similar experiences in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. Earlier on Wednesday, he had filmed outside the League City and Texas City police departments without incident, he said.

“I’m noticing that officers aren’t really trained to ask for ID, or they just don’t really care,” Turner said.

It is not illegal to film police officers or police facilities from a public street in Texas.

According to Texas law, failure to identify to police is a crime if a person “intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information.”

Smith said the only crime Turner was charged with was his failure to identify. He acknowledged that Turner had the right to film from public property.

“The officer’s concern is that it was suspicious,” Smith said, mentioning threats that had been made against police officers in other parts of the country. Smith said the officer was concerned Turner was filming identifying information, such as license plates.

No threats have been made specifically against the Galveston Police Department, Smith said.

Mickey Osterreicher, an attorney and the general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said that if no other crime occurred, the police erred in arresting Turner.

“If you are in a public place where you have a legal right to be, the police have to have probable cause to believe that you are committing a crime,” Osterreicher said. “If you’re doing nothing other than taking pictures, that in itself is a First Amendment protected right and does not constitute a crime.”

The police department released a statement Thursday afternoon claiming that Turner was “recording vehicle license plates and law enforcement building.”

“The officer was concerned that the individual was recording law enforcement personnel movements and structures to plan future harm; therefore, he detained the individual and attempted to identify him,” city spokesman Michael Gray said in the media release.

Turner denied he was filming license plates or doing anything to threaten the safety of the police officers.

Smith said the department’s phones had been inundated with phone calls about Turner’s arrest since it was first written about on photographyisnotacrime.com

On Thursday evening, Turner said he intended to return to Galveston to contest the charges against him and to continue to testing police departments.

“My camera is my protest sign,” he said.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com. Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.

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(22) comments

Daisy Harris

According to Texas law, failure to identify yourself to police is a crime if a person "intentionally refuses to give his name, residence address, or date of birth to a peace officer who has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information." That is the problem, he was not breaking the law, therefore should not have been arrested and should not have been asked for and ID. The Galveston police department clearly was in error in this situation.

George Croix

Another 15 minutes of fame for a character looking, repeatedly, to draw attention to himself....imho.....
Legal or not, it's just plain stupid to stir up cr...rhymes with trap just because you can.....

Doyle Beard

I would like to read the full report before I jump to conclusions

Doyle Beard

I want to see the full report before judging what happened.

Doyle Beard

why does the GDN keep taking my post off

Ann Derek

In today's climate where police are being targeted for death by crazies incited by a certain group, who I won't name because they should never receive publicity, this is a provocative action by Turner. I hope the police find cause to throw this pos under the jail.

Mike Trube

If he was not breaking any laws, then why the need for 'show your papers.' That's how it started in Germany. Stopping innocent citizens and harassing them with always having to show their papers for no good reason. There's good reason to make sure law enforcement is not over stepping their bounds.

Connie Trube

Staff
Melanie Perry

He should get arrested - you are to identify yourself when asked by a police officer. i would have been the one to call the police out if i happened to be at the police department while this guy was filming. i do not want my photo or vehilce information out there by nuts that i do not know. it is bad enough we have sateliites capturing our every move why do we need anyone else doing it. It would be like if you were at walmart and some guy is walking around the cars - it is called suspicious behavior. ignore it if you don't think our society is going nuts.

John Miller

Too bad photography is not a crime, and Texas is not a stop and ID state. And they dropped all charges, which makes you a moron.

Mike Trube

"People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both."

Ben Franklin

Mike Trube

As Ben Franklin said "People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both."

I couldn't agree more. He foresaw the future.

Connie Trube

If this posts twice, it's because I thought I lost it. My apologies.

Doyle Beard

Dont believe Ben knew,the world would be such a crazy world. I rather doubt he said that because he knew the future,

Mike Trube

Perhaps ole Ben was wise enough to learn from the past......or maybe he had first hand experience at how politicians worked. It matters not. It's my opinion he is right on the mark.

Connie T.

George Croix

In my little world, there's a BIG difference between trading away your freedom and with wondering why some character is wandering around videoing the area, and asking him about it, and not being one bit pleased if he refuses to say, especially to Law Enforcement. And ESPECIALLY with the upsurge in attacks on Police thanks in no small part to the mental cases and/or trouble makers in the very, very selectively indignant 'BLM 'movement... again, imho...

But, this is 'normal' for attention junkies....if they can't find something to complain and be an 'activist' about, they'll go cause or invent something...

George Larand

I've heard a radio interview with this guy before, he has serious mental issues.

John Miller

Ha! They just dropped all charges. Hope all you freedom haters enjoy eating your words. Phillip Turner did nothing illegal, and now the citizens will have to pay for their idiot cops misdeeds.

George Croix

Birds of a feather....

Doyle Beard

seems at times people more worried about tax dollars than principals.

Ann Derek

Another mentally diseased liberal with no logic...

Tommy Tunes

Hope you reported on the Results of the Federal Lawsuit Phillip Turner won, big time.

Google. Turner's. Drivet

Tommy Tunes

Actually the Federal Courts , Turner won


Google Turner vs. Driver

Carlos Ponce

Philip Turner won big time? Read the Court's Conclusion:
"CONCLUSION
We affirm the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to Grinalds,
Dyess, and Driver on Turner’s First Amendment claim and on his Fourth
Amendment claim for unlawful detention. With respect to Turner’s Fourth
Amendment claim for unlawful arrest, we affirm the district court’s grant of
qualified immunity as to Driver, but we reverse as to Grinalds and Dyess and
remand for further proceedings on that claim. AFFIRMED in part; REVERSED and REMANDED in part."
"The district court concluded that the defendants were entitled to
qualified immunity on Turner’s First Amendment claim because he
failed to demonstrate that the defendants’ actions violated a clearly established right or that their actions were objectively unreasonable. In particular, the district
court ruled that a First Amendment right to video record police activity was not clearly established. " This was AFFIRMED.
http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/16/16-10312-CV0.pdf

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