Mendocino Courthouse

Excessive Force & Police Abuse

Local Mendocino County Citizen Efforts


CopwatchIn 1990, the original Copwatch group, Berkeley Copwatch, began on Telegraph Avenue as an all-volunteer organization dedicated to monitoring police actions and non-violently asserting rights against the police. Since that time, many Copwatch-type organizations have sprung up across the nation, in various forms. You may wish to visit the websites for Santa Rosa Copwatch, Northbay Copwatch and Redwood Curtain Copwatch, and consider their suggestion to memorize key phrases such as "AM I BEING DETAINED?" and "I DO NOT CONSENT," as well as their suggestion that if you see a police-civilian encounter, stop, observe, and film the incident.

Protected Speech

Filming Police Encounters

Redwood Curtain CopwatchMake No Mistake, Filming the Police is a Dangerous Risk. Although Mendocino County DUI attorneys and civil rights lawyers believe that filming the police engaged in their public duties is fully legal and constitutionally protected conduct, nevertheless, one who decides to film the police assumes enormous personal risk of harrassment, injury and arrest. Convictions for violating state laws against filming anyone, including the police, without their prior consent have been upheld by some state courts, notably Massachusettes, Illinois and Maryland.

The police are not often pleased to see anyone video taping them. Numerous police agencies and police unions around the country have raised personal privacy objections, as well as claims of interference and public safety objections to such activity. The libertarian think tank CATO Institute states that the police continue to harass those who record police encounters. You may want to view their video, Cops on Camera.

Redwood Curtain CopwatchFor an interesting examination of this debate, listen to National Public Radio's feature pieces: "This is the Police, Put Down Your Camera" (Morning Edition), and "The Rules and Your Rights for Recording Arrests" (Talk of the Nation). From the right, watch former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano's commentary "Who Polices the Police?" on the Fox News Channel. From the left, read the Obama administration's Department of Justice amicus brief in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Dept, where DOJ firmly states that the "First Amendment protects the recording of police officers performing their duties in public."

Arrests and civil rights law suits testing the fortitutde of the First Amendment are increasingly common in Jake's Mendocino County DUI Lawyer weekly reports of police excess and abuse posted on this very web page directly below, picked from the National Police Misconduct News Feed on Twitter.

California ACLU Smartphone App

Think First. If you decide to engage this risk, then remember that an effective, useful observer typically maintains a safe and objective distance rather than becoming a distracting, escalating or otherwise subjective participant in the incident.

Information to Collect. If you decide to record or film a Ukiah DUI arrest or any other Mendocino County citizen-police encounter, then get witness statements with names and numbers. Immediately write down as much detail as you remember, including developments prior to filming. Add the names of police agencies, cop names or descriptions, badge & license plate numbers, date, time, and location. Then, in the next 45 days, search the local Mendocino County police agency logs (for example Mendocino County Sheriff, CHP, Ukiah, Willits, Fort Bragg police departments, etc), and the press and internet, for the arrestee's name and contact information; any offer of film copy, witness statements and other information will likely be met with high praise and gratitude by anyone who believes they were victims of police excess.

Angry Insults Directed at Police

But Cursing a Judge: NOT Protected Speech

Asserting Your Rights Can Hurt. Just like other conduct perceived by police to challenge their street authority (see discussion above about filming police encounters), any good Ukiah DUI attorney or civil rights lawyer would caution that hurling insulting speech or making obscene gestures at cops undeniably heightens the risk of excessive police force, injury and arrest, but there is no doubt that, absent evidence such as incitement, police interference, or assault (in your face behavior), simply directing expletives and obscene hand gestures at law enforcement officers has long been held by courts to be expressions of disapproval toward the police, and therefore, protected by the First Amendment. Knowledgeable Mendocino County DUI lawyers will tell you, it is clearly established that police officers may not use their authority to punish an individual for exercising his or her First Amendment rights. For a good discussion of expletives aimed at the police, and unconstitutional police retaliation, see, Ford v. Yakima (9th Cir 2013).

See also, Merenda v. Tabor (11th Cir. 2013) for an examination of factors which might justify an arrest. For good discussions of flipping the bird at the police, see, Hackbart v. Pittsburgh (W.D. PA 2009), and UC Davis Law Review, "The Middle Finger and the Law (2008).

Mendocino County Police Abuse Complaint Forms




Greater Investigations

Reporting Project

Documented Allegations of Police Excess in DUI, Traffic & Alcohol Arrests


Any result portrayed was dependent on the facts of that case, and the results will differ if based on different facts.