A New York man arrested on charges of obstructing and hindering a Harford County Sheriff’s deputy at a traffic stop he filmed had his case indefinitely postponed Wednesday, with the man agreeing to community service and to write a letter of apology.
SeanPaul Reyes, 30, was arrested while filming a May 4 traffic stop conducted by Senior Deputy Keith Jackson with the sheriff’s office on the 500 block of Pulaski Highway in Joppa. The sheriff’s office initiated an internal investigation into the matter and posted the body camera footage of the stop to its Facebook page.
Jackson was consulted throughout the case and agreed for it to be resolved in this way, according to a statement from the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office.
“Mr. Reyes has since written his letter of apology wherein he now acknowledges that his actions were misguided, recognizes the important role law enforcement play when engaged in the course of their duties and understands the proper way to exercise his 1st amendment rights,” according to the statement.
Reyes criminal case was placed on the stet docket, meaning the parties involved agreed to have it indefinitely postponed, according to Harford County Deputy State’s Attorney Gavin Patashnick. Stet, which is Latin for “let it stand,” cases can be reopened for any reason within the first year of postponement, and reopened for good cause after that year.
While it is not a conviction, defendants must wait three years before applying for expungement for stet cases.
Patashnick said Reyes’ letter is about one page and the community service amounts to 10 hours, to be done in Harford County.
Reyes’ attorney, Matthew Bennett, said he was pleased to reach a conclusion in the case and gave kudos to Harford County State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger for its professional resolution.
“My client is glad that we resolved this amicably, and he plans to continue to do his First Amendment auditing work and will make sure he does it in a lawful manner consistent with the Constitution and the laws of the jurisdiction,” Bennett said.
The sheriff’s office promised to release the results of an administrative investigation when it first posted the body camera footage of the incident.
In a roughly 5-minute video statement posted to the sheriff’s office Facebook page, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said Reyes has withdrawn his formal complaint against the deputy and, as such, the internal investigation is considered closed.
“Although the defendant was not interviewed, as of the complaint begin withdrawn, I will offer that our office of professional standards did not find any violation of our policy or law during the already completed work of the administrative investigation,” Gahler said.
Gahler noted that the sheriff’s office uses body cameras and dashboard cameras and that deputies are frequently recorded by members of the public.
“The deputy didn’t care that his actions were recorded ... that is not why this defendant was arrested and at no time was he ever told he was being arrested for recording,” Gahler said. “This individual was placed under arrest after refusing to obey the orders of the deputy to move back and hindering the deputy in the performance of his lawful duties.”
The bodycam footage shows Reyes approaching police officers during a traffic stop and filming them from a sidewalk with his smartphone, as well as his exchange with Jackson.
Jackson asks what Reyes wants and tells him to back away from the traffic stop as Reyes walks closer. Reyes, who posted his video of the exchange on his YouTube page, says he is on a public sidewalk. Jackson instructs him to back up several times before pointing his stun gun at Reyes, who takes a few steps backward. Jackson says Reyes is interrupting the traffic stop while Reyes maintains he has a right to film the police.
After some argument, Jackson tells Reyes to put his hands behind his back and that he is under arrest.
Then two deputies handcuff Reyes and seat him on the curb. Jackson says Reyes was approaching the scene from the rear and that he could have filmed from another location instead of walking up close behind the police cars. Jackson tells Reyes he unholstered his stun gun because Reyes would not stop moving toward him.
“We will allow you to video; I do not care if you are standing over in that parking lot there where I can see you,” Jackson says. “As soon as we do a traffic stop or any other type of investigation, we drop a bubble on the area we are in. You are not walking up behind me.”
As he sits on the curb, Reyes and the deputy argue back and forth about what happened. Reyes apologizes and asks to leave while Jackson says that Reyes took his attention away from the traffic stop and was acting confrontational.
In his statement, Gahler said the edited videos that Reyes posted, which omitted footage of him apologizing the deputy on the scene, led to many “hateful, threatening and derogatory calls, emails and messages being sent to our office and the deputy himself.
“This too is something the individual now apologizes for, the collateral consequences that have impacted the deputy and his family for just doing his job,” he said.
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In his apology letter, which the sheriff’s office posted to Facebook as well, Reyes writes to Jackson that he “fully understands” the deputy’s response to his actions that night and “I can see now you didn’t violate my 1st Amendment rights, as you offered for me to film from another location nearby.”
“I accept that I should’ve made better choices,” Reyes wrote. “My goal with my platform is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the public, not lengthen it. ... I will never stop peacefully exercising my constitutional rights, but going forward I will do so in a way that does not put the safety of law enforcement of the public at risk.”
In a previous interview, Reyes identified himself as a “First Amendment auditor” and said he did not plan to speak to the deputies or the person who was stopped when he walked over.
The sheriff’s office’s policy on filming deputies states that officers cannot restrict citizens from filming them in the public domain “as long as their location, action or behavior does not “create a legitimate, articulable threat to officer safety or the safety of others, or an unlawful hindrance to successful resolution of the law enforcement activity.”
The state’s attorney’s office praised Jackson’s comportment and use of de-escalation strategies.
“Deputy Jackson’s actions that evening exemplify how our law enforcement routinely interacts with our Harford County community and how it should be done,” according to the office’s statement.
Aegis Editor S. Wayne Carter Jr. contributed to this article.