Adam Pringle was cited by a San Diego police officer over the weekend for smoking on the sidewalk -- an actual violation of the law in the area he was in -- but it wasn't so much this violation that he finds upsetting. Pringle was filming his citation with his smartphone and after he refused to stop when asked by police, he claims the officer attacked him.
San Diego police officer writing the citation. (Image: YouTube screenshot)
According to Photography is Not a Crime -- a weblog frequently covering the right to photograph and film law enforcement activities in public -- Pringle was walking on Mission Beach boardwalk on Saturday when two police on bicycles approached him and his friends for the violation.
In the video that was posted on YouTube of the encounter, you can see an officer writing up the ticket as Pringle says offscreen that he was getting a citation for smoking on the sidewalk. From there, when the officer is about to explain to Pringle the citation, he asks that Pringle put his phone away. Pringle refused, which led to what appears to be a struggle before the screen goes dark.
"I have a right to film this, I am in a public spot," Pringle said.
To which the cop responded, "cellphones can be converted into weapons ...look it up online."
Pringle repeatedly said his cellphone was not a weapon.
Watch the footage taken by Pringle:
In an interview with Photography Is Not a Crime, Pringle said the officer hit the cellphone out of his hand, damaging it on the boardwalk. Pringle was then forced onto his stomach, handcuffed and spent the rest of the night in jail with charges of obstruction.
“Blood was everywhere,” Pringle told the weblog. “I was laying on my stomach and he had one knee on my back and the other knee on the side of my face.
“They kept telling me ‘to calm down,’ that ‘you’re making this worse for yourself,’ that ‘you have no right to record us.’”
Pringle being arrested as seen in a second video taken by one of his friends. (Image: Photography Is Not a Crime video screenshot)
A separate video filmed by one of Pringle's friends identifies one of the officers as M. Reinhold.
In this video, Reinhold said "[the other officer said] just give him the phone. Isn't that a reasonable thing to do?"
(Image: Photography Is Not a Crime video screenshot)
The friend asks how the phone is a weapon and Reinhold said he didn't know for sure at the time that Pringle's device wasn't.
"If you look it up online, cellphones can be converted into firearms and Tasers. Look it up online. There's video of how to do it," Reinhold said.
Reinhold later goes on to explain that officers have training on how cellphones can be converted into such weapons.
"So, if someone wants to stand within a couple feet of me, I'm gonna need to look at that cellphone and make sure it's not a weapon," he said.
If Pringle had handed over the phone and let Reinhold confirm it wasn't a weapon, there would have been no problem, the officer said, noting how the friend filming the second video allowed him to confirm it wasn't dangerous.
As for protection of private property under the Fourth Amendment, Reinhold said officer safety trumps it in the court. Carlos Miller, who writes the Photography Is Not a Crime blog, said this comment shows the "arrogance of these police officers"
Check out the blog to see this second video here.
As for video tutorials for how to convert a cellphone into a weapon, there are videos on YouTube showing stun guns that are made to look like cellphones. This video shows a 22 caliber gun that has been disguised to look like a cellphone: