CBS 6 Investigates: What are your rights when filming police?

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PETERSBURG, Va.- Two Virginia police departments are now investigating a pair of altercations involving police officers and cell phones.

CBS 6 investigative reporter Melissa Hipolit first told you about one of those incidents on Thursday.

It involves a 19-year-old Petersburg man, Devin Thomas, who alleges Petersburg police officers knocked his cell phone out of his hand on Tuesday and assaulted him for filming them.

Our sister station WTKR in Norfolk reported on the second incident on Thursday.

WTKR Reporter Jessica Larche reported Norfolk police are investigating video recorded by 22-year-old Jeremiah Schwenk of one of their officers pushing a camera phone out of his face after a confrontation.

Here’s a description of that video from WTKR:

“I’m here to make sure my friend doesn’t get his rights violated,” Schwenk said in the video.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” the officer replied.

“Police do not protect people,” Schwenk said as he was recording.

The officer never asked Schwenk to stop recording, but he did continue to ask Schwenk to move.

“I have the right to record you,” Schwenk said.

The officer replied, “I’m telling you right now. Step any closer, and keep trying to move around me.  This is on your phone right?  I will arrest you for interfering.  You understand me?”

Moments later, the conversation escalated into a heated confrontation when the officer yelled, “Get that light out of my face!” as he pushed Schwenk’s cell phone away.

We wanted to know when it’s OK to shoot video of officers, so we asked Rebecca Glenberg, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

“People have a right to film police officers as long as they're not interfering with the officers and their performance of their duties,” Glenberg said.

Glenberg said it is never a good idea to taunt the police, but that does not warrant them stopping you from rolling.

“Assuming that the person is at a reasonable distance, the fact that the police may be distracted because someone is filming them does not make the filming illegal,” Glenberg said.

She said all officers should be wearing cameras so there is no doubt about who should be held accountable.

“[To] make it clearer exactly what happened in a particular situation,” Glenberg said.


  • Norma Earls

    Melissa Hipolit is the only area news reporter who would even agree to “report” on this dog of a story. Then she was allowed to rush it to air w/o verifying sources, resulting in CBS 6 posting an edited video of the “incident”. Now, despite the fact that’s it’s crystal clear the “incident” had absolutely NOTHING to do w/ filming law enforcement officers, what does CBS 6 do? It allows Melissa Hipolit to air a whole segment about “knowing your civil rights” when filming police officers.

  • Jay

    Considering the cost to defend these cases, seems a live video feed from every officer would do a lot to dissuade errant cops and document every interaction/event the police are involved with. Great evidence in court to prosecute the guilty. Besides, they do work for us and need to be held accountable.

  • mia

    It WOULDN’T be nice for all law enforcement to have body cameras, then annoying gnats like the ones inciting obstruction and posting edited idiocy like this would be shown as the Internet whackers they are. .. seriously, with ALL the crimes, ALL the gang activity and ALL the recent shootings in the tri cities, WTVR is going to provide a forum to a dimwit who has a permanent chip on his shoulder and goes around provoking confrontations with police so he can film it?

    • Norma Earls

      I couldn’t agree more. The T-D reported on this w/ the unedited video and did NOT write that the incident was over “filming”. It’s called investigative journalism.

  • Public Defender

    I don’t presume to know the facts in the case at hand. Given the confrontational nature of some who frequent fire/police/EMS scenes, it seems that the only effective defense emergency personnel can have is individual body-cameras that record their actions and interactions on secure remote devices maintained in a way that makes the recordings admissible in Courts of Laws. I do not condone abuse of citizens by emergency response personnel when and if it occurs, but it is increasingly clear that there are literally hundreds of people armed with cameras whose agenda is to provoke confrontation with police, fire, and EMS personnel and impede their work on accident, crime, fire, and other emergency scenes for their own self-gratification. From the earliest TV reports on this case, I have a strong suspicion, given the rapidity with which a protest was organized, that intentional provocation might have been involved in this particular incident.

    • Dustin Cavanaugh

      Provocation is not illegal. Interfering is. A provoker can provoke a provokee who then also becomes a provoker. I don’t know what happened but I know those little cameras bought in bulk can be gotten for a rather small sum but then VA wouldn’t get their money the way they want from bs charges because the truth would be told. Less court fines = less money. They don’t care about the truth or justice at all. They are just greedy piles of garbage.

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