A Florida sheriff reiterated Monday that one of his deputies was justified in snatching a cellphone from a detained individual who was recording officers search his car, insisting that the phone could have been used as a weapon.
"The probable cause traffic stop, K9 alert, presence of a firearm, and (name omitted)’s lack of candor created a scenario where the potential for (name omitted) to summon others to the scene via his cell phone was an officer safety concern," Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott initially told WFTX-TV in an April 1 email.
[sharequote align="center"]"[P]otential ... to summon others to the scene via his cellphone was an officer safety concern."[/sharequote]
The sheriff was offering his thoughts on an incident that occurred when an unidentified 25-year-old with a concealed carry permit was stopped by deputies. The individual, who says he has been targeted by police, wanted to document authorities search his car and started recording officers with his cellphone. That's when a deputy snatched it out of his hands.
"We don't need you calling people," a deputy can be heard in the video saying before taking the man's phone.
Scott told TheBlaze that officers initially stopped the 25-year-old for running a red light or stop sign. The sheriff was not sure if any other charges were ultimately filed after the search of the vehicle. The incident took place late last month.
Individuals have the legal right — safeguarded by the U.S. Constitution — to record police in public spaces, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
A constitutional law attorney echoed that sentiment to WFTX.
"He wasn't doing anything to threaten the officer, and he wasn't doing anything to interfere with their investigation," said Dave Shestokas, who is legally representing the individual.
However, despite this, the sheriff is justifying the actions of his officers, providing an unusual defense.
"[I]t is a well documented fact that pagers, cell phones, and other commonly carried devices have in fact proven to be firearms (see link below as but one example) and given the circumstances of this particular traffic stop our Deputies were not comfortable with (name omitted) pointing his 'cell phone' at them as they tried to work through the situation," Scott wrote.
The link he provided was to a YouTube video posted in 2007 and contradicts what firearms experts and federal and local law enforcement told WFTX.
"That's just one person that we've seen on YouTube, so we don't know if that's just a prototype," John Dezendorf of Fowler Firearms and Gun Range in Fort Myers told WFTX.
In fact, the Miami-Dade Police Department, the largest police agency in the southeast, said their officers have never encountered a cellphone gun. Both the FBI and ATF too said they were unable to find instances when their officers saw such a device in the field, WFTX-TV reported.
In an interview with TheBlaze Monday, Scott was unable to point to a specific instance when his officers have encountered a cellphone gun. He did, however, cite a credit card knife available on the Internet, telling TheBlaze that it "surely begs the question that if a 'credit card'-shaped object is of possible concern, then a phone might not be out of the question." TheBlaze has previously reported on weapons, such as tasers, disguised as cellphones.
Scott added that "it's not illegal" to use a cellphone to call individuals while stopped by officers, but continued defending his deputies.
"The bottom line is this. The totality of circumstances from the stop — I was not there. It's going to be for those officers to articulate and or defend their actions there," he said. "I don't automatically rule out the fact that it (the phone) may have been a concern to them."
[sharequote align="center"]"I don't automatically rule out the fact that it (the phone) may have been a concern to them."[/sharequote]
Scott also took a shot at WFTX reporter Liza Fernandez who first reported on the story.
"I can't help the fact that the reporter that did this story is a weather reporter," he told TheBlaze. "Bless her heart."
Earlier, Scott had taken a similar jab at Fernandez.
"My brave Deputies do not read from a teleprompter and wear heavy make-up (sic) … they stand as the last line of defense for our citizens and in doing so wear bullet proof vests," he said in an email to her. "You apparently have a break from doing the weather report today and seem bent on sympathizing and sensationalizing which is certainly your prerogative."
"I happen to believe that a vast majority of the citizens we serve are appreciative of efforts like these, and I am thankful they are in our corner," Scott concluded.
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