A Baltimore County Auxiliary Police sergeant who confronted a bystander filming an arrest early Sunday morning in Towson and told the videographer that he "lost" his Constitutional rights has been put on administrative duties pending the outcome of an investigation into the incident, Baltimore County Police said in a statement Wednesday.
"The words of and demands to cease filming by sworn personnel and citizen volunteer auxiliary officers were incorrect, inappropriate and unnecessary," Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson said in a statement. "They were not helpful in bringing this incident to closure. As we already have stated, all aspects of this encounter are under investigation, and all personnel will be held accountable for their actions."
The man shown in the video is a 22-year veteran of the auxiliary, police said, and will be limited to administrative volunteer duties until the investigation is finished. His name is being withheld pending the investigation.
The disturbance, which occurred in the 400 block of York Road at about 1:45 a.m. Sunday, involved the arrest of a man and a woman on charges of resisting arrest, disturbing the peace, second-degree assault, and drug charges, police said. On-duty officers noticed a large crowd causing a disturbance and responded to the scene, according to police.
During the incident, officers from the county police department and Maryland State Police were making arrests and containing the crowd when officers noticed a person videotaping the incident.
An officer tells the person filming that he was distracting police. After a long exchange, in which several officers confront the man, the camera shakes and the person filming says he is being pushed.
The person filming was not arrested and has not filed a complaint or contacted county police, according to the police statement. Police said investigators are trying to contact him "because they believe his story will help them build a complete picture of what happened."
According to a county police statement, Johnson viewed the video "multiple times" and took issue with the language used and the officer's statements about the citizen's rights.
"This Department enjoys a good relationship with its citizens largely because of its longstanding commitment to treating people with respect for their rights," Johnson said. "Our personnel will be held accountable if they fail to do that."
On Wednesday, the general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association wrote to Johnson and urged "no less than a thorough and unbiased investigation of this matter including any appropriately deemed discipline for those involved."
"While it may be understandable that law enforcement officers had a heightened sense of awareness during this incident — we believe that they abused that discretion by interfering and threatening someone doing nothing more than exercising a core constitutional right," wrote Mickey H. Osterreicher, the association's general counsel. "Creating a climate that chills free speech should not be tolerated, especially by a law enforcement agency that states on its website that it preserves the peace, and protects the rights of all citizens."
In its statement, the county police department outlined its use of auxiliary officers.
The department said its auxiliary police officers, of which there are about 80, go through 115 hours of training that is based on a full county police officer's training, though less extensive. Police said the "training is commensurate with the level of responsibility and authority delegated to these volunteers."
Johnson said in the statement the volunteers have "played an important role in our efforts to reduce crime in Baltimore County."