CopWatch says video shows intimidation
Sentinel Staff Writer
(posted) 11:15 PM EDT, September 5, 2007
A police watchdog group accused an Orlando officer Wednesday of manhandling a volunteer who was trying to take video footage of an arrest near downtown.
Two CopWatch videos of the incident were released exclusively to the Orlando Sentinel. It shows a man who was videotaping an arrest being pushed to the ground by an officer and handcuffed.
Volunteer George Crossley said that Sunday's events demonstrate that Orlando police are trying to intimidate the group's members.
"The Orlando police chief says that CopWatch has a right to exist. That message clearly hasn't gotten down the ranks," Crossley said. He also serves as chairman of the Central Florida American Civil Liberties Union.
If CopWatch members have a complaint, they should take it to the department's internal-affairs office, said police spokeswoman Sgt. Barbara Jones.
Crossley said the group plans to file such a complaint early today and will have a news conference at noon.
The incident took place about 1 a.m. Sunday in the Colonialtown neighborhood of Orlando, according to a police report written by Officer John Seth James.
CopWatch volunteer Josh Leclair and a friend who is not with the group were driving to a nearby home on the 1200 block of Portland Avenue when they spotted an officer on the street holding a gun to the head of a belligerent drunken-driving suspect, Crossley said.
Leclair grabbed a camera and began filming. His friend, Rick Wiedemann, took out his BlackBerry, which has a video camera, and began filming as well.
When the officer spotted Leclair, he left the suspect, approached the volunteer and told him to go indoors, according to video footage.
Leclair did not.
"Detain him," the policeman said to an assisting officer.
"I'm not interfering with anything, sir," Leclair replied.
"Yo, hands behind your back!" the assisting officer said. He pushed the volunteer to the ground and handcuffed him. The officer's identity could not be confirmed Wednesday night.
Leclair later was released without charge. The incident left him with numerous bruises and scrapes to his chin, shoulder and arm, Crossley said. He did not go to the hospital.
James, the police officer, said in his report that Leclair was detained because he came within 10 feet of him and the suspect. He said he thought Leclair might interfere with the arrest.
Crossley said the video shows that Leclair was farther away.
The suspect, Michael Glenn Wallace, 25, of Casselberry was arrested on one count each of driving under the influence and resisting an officer without violence. He was being held in the Orange County Jail with bail set at $1,700.
Willoughby Mariano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgƒo or 407-420-5171.
STATEMENT BY JOSH LECLAIR ON THE INCIDENT
Source: Joshua Leclair
I, Joshua M. Leclair, was visiting a friend's residence at 1209 Portland Ave., Orlando, FL 32803 at approximately 1:00 am on September 2, 2007 when an Orlando Police Department squad car made a traffic stop roughly fifty feet north of the residence. The officer approached the vehicle and drew his gun upon the driver's head. Being a member of Orlando CopWatch, I started to film the traffic stop. After Ofc. John Seth James removed the driver from the vehicle and had him handcuffed on the ground, Ofc. John Seth James left the scene of the traffic stop and approached me to demand that I "go inside." I then informed the officer of my legal right to film and told him I was not interfering. He then ordered another officer to detain me. The second officer ran up to me and told me to put my hands behind my back and threw me to the ground. The second officer then handcuffed and searched me while I was face-down on the ground. I repeatedly asked the second officer what I was being detained for and he said that he "didn't know." I was then picked up and led through the scene to a curb next to a squad car. At that time, Ofc. Richard Studer approached me and asked what I was doing. Before I could answer, Ofc. John Seth James yelled to him that I was interfering. I then told Ofc. Studer that I was not interfering. Ofc. Studer asked me if I thought he would believe me over his officer. He then asked if I had it on tape. I responded affirmatively and the second officer handed him the video camera. After viewing the video footage, Ofc. Studer ordered the second officer to release me. Ofc. Studer asked me to fill out an affidavit on the original traffic stop that I had witnessed and I did so. At approximately 1:35 am, I was escorted back through the scene and let go.
I went into my friend's home and noticed blood on my chin and a scrape on my shoulder. After returning to my residence, I took photographs of my injuries including a scrape on my chin, shoulder and elbow. I have since found a couple of bruises on my right knee and shin.
(signed) Joshua M. Leclair
(dated) September 6, 2007