Friday, June 1, 2007

Watching The Detectives ... Can Land You In Jail

Once may be an anomaly, twice a coincidence, but three or more instances constitute a pattern.

Bear that axiom in mind as we review some cases in which citizens have been charged with illegal “wiretapping” -- a felony – for the supposed offense of recording their encounters with law enforcement personnel.

Police in Rochester, New Hampshire found 48-year-old Christopher A. Power sitting in his car while apparently inebriated. The engine was running, and Power was sitting behind the wheel, but a good attorney could make a case that he was not “operating” the vehicle for the purpose of being charged with a DUI. He told the police that he was “stressed” and upset, and was listening to his stereo in the hope of dispelling his foul mood.

After the police removed Power from his vehicle, they discovered a mini-cassette recorder he had used to document the entire incident. In addition to being charged with driving while intoxicated, Power was slapped with a wiretapping charge, which is a Class B felony.

Power's case is somewhat similar to that of Nashua, New Hampshire resident Michael Gannon, who was arrested and charged with illegal wiretapping last June 27. Gannon's fifteen-year-old son was suspected of involvement in a very serious crime, an armed mugging that had taken place outside a restaurant a few days earlier. The police were very persistent in pressing Michael and his wife Janet for information regarding their son's whereabouts – an attitude that contrasted sharply with their previous performance when Michael, a disabled veteran, was on the receiving end of violent crime.

We've had four break-ins,” Janet told the Nashua Telegraph. “One guy came right up our stairs and started beating on my husband, and we called the cops.” Following a subsequent break-in involving a camper on their property, an officer told the Gannons they were “too rich” for the neighborhood and should move out.

Without reasonable hope for help from the police, the Gannons purchased a closed-circuit audio and video security system and posted a sign on their house warning visitors that their actions were being recorded.

After their son ran afoul of the law, the police became a constant and, unfortunately, intimidating presence in the neighborhood.

Michael Gannon (r.) with his wife Janet and their troubled fifteen-year-old son, who was charged with involvement in a mugging. That is a serious crime; video- and audio-taping police interviews is not a crime of any sort. (Nashua Telegraph photo.)

There were six cops in the yard” after the 15-year-old son was identified as a suspect, Janet recalls. Detective Andrew Karlis made repeated visits to the home at times seemingly chosen for their inconvenience – late at night, or during dinner. “He made several rude remarks about Mike being a disabled vet and about the taxes we pay on the house,” Janet declares. “He ... also put his foot in the door as Mike tried to close it and we asked him to leave, but he wouldn't.”

The Gannons' neighbors in the four-unit building took note of the number of police visits the Gannons were forced to endure, and the less-than-professional conduct of the officers involved.

They said they were going to keep coming back every night,” recounts Trisha Lessard, a neighbor. “They were keeping us up. They scared me, and I have two police officers in my family.”

At one point a young mother, her small child in tow and very pregnant with another, arrived at the building and couldn't get into her parking space, which was blocked by two police cars. A resident politely asked an officer if the cars could be moved to accommodate the young mother. The officer brusquely replied: “I'll move when I'm done.”

Lessard, who witnessed the exchange, leaned in the direction of another officer to read his name or badge number.

“He said, `What are you looking at?'... I said, `I'm looking for your badge number.' He said, `It's none of your G—damned business.'... I was just taken aback by their rudeness.”

Michael Gannon, bearing the full brunt of that rudeness, eventually lost his composure. He recalls telling the investigators “`Goodnight, gentlemen' about forty times” in a futile effort to dismiss Detective Karlis and his comrades, before finally snapping and ordering them to “get the F**K out of my house.” During a subsequent visit, Mr. Gannon drew attention to the home security system by inviting Karlis to “smile” for the camera.

Finally, in exasperation, the Gannons went to the local police station to file a misconduct complaint against Karlis. Significantly, that complaint was eventually upheld by Police Chief Timothy Hufferan, who admitted that “one of our detectives [presumably Karlis] did not afford a member of the public the level of courtesy that they expect and deserve, regardless of how provocative, uncooperative or disrespectful that individual may have been to the officer during the same encounter.”

However, this vindication came only after Michael Gannon – along with Janet and their 18-year-old son Shawn -- were all arrested. (.pdf) He was booked on two felony counts of eavesdropping and wiretapping; Janet and Shawn were both charged with disorderly conduct (which most likely means that they volubly expressed their incredulous disgust over Michael's spurious arrest), and Shawn was also charged with “resisting detention.”

A search warrant (.pdf) was obtained and the police ransacked the Gannon home, seizing videotapes and tearing the cameras from their fixtures. The Gannons were kept outside their home for several hours while this act of vandalism was underway.

Janet eventually had to post $10,000 in bail to get her husband out of jail. He faced a possible 21-year-prison sentence.

I don't want to run him through the wringer here,” insisted Chief Hefferan, his hand steadily turning the crank on the wringer through which he was feeding the hapless 39-year-old man. The Chief and Hillsborough County Attorney Marguerite Wageling offered Gannon a deal: Plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge of evidence tampering, and he'd receive a 30-day suspended jail sentence.

To his credit, Gannon rejected the deal, and the wiretapping charges – which were palpably fraudulent to begin with – were dropped. His fifteen-year-old son was arrested and charged in connection with the mugging, but it's difficult to see how any other family member had done anything to merit the treatment they had received.

So we have two examples of citizens facing wiretapping charges for the supposed offense of recording their interactions with police. I'm confident to the point of a moral certainty that at least a few more cases of this kind can be turned up.

In fact, I'm surprised that charges of this sort weren't filed against Eugene Siler and his wife after they secretly recorded the two-hour torture session Eugene endured at the hands of police in Franklin County, Tennessee, or against Denver CopWatch activist Evan Herzoff for recording his conversation with the officer who arrested Herzoff after being asked for his business card.

I maintain that, to the extent it's possible, citizens should always record their encounters with police – just as police record them -- for the safety of both parties. As the technology to do so becomes nearly ubiquitous, police are apparently learning to use wiretapping laws to counteract citizen efforts to document police encounters.

Unlike many other forms of abusive conduct by law enforcement officers, this particular tactic admits of a relatively simple remedy: State legislatures can amend eavesdropping statutes and wiretapping laws to specify that they do not apply to those bearing police credentials and acting in an official capacity. Accepting those credentials should constitute implied consent to having one's official actions recorded at any time.

The logic of this suggestion seems unassailable to me. But then again, this doesn't address the fundamental assumption of privilege that tacitly undergirds the actions of those who act in the name of the State: They're the Government, and we're not.

Remember to keep checking in at The Right Source!


Johnny Cuban said...

Land of corruption and thuggery!

Zachary said...

Good advice: Most cellphones made today and for the last few years have recording features. 9 out of 10 people who have phones that record don't know it though. Consult the owners manual. That way you always have a recorder with you.

Jacob said...

I bring a camera to the gun range so I can take pictures of the occasional ATF agent that comes by taking pictures of the cars in the parking lot and people at the line.

This has happened to me a couple of times. Once in Appleton at the Twin City Rod and Gun Club. The agent wouldn't identify himself, jumped in his vehicle, and drove away when I confronted him about what he was doing snooping outside the gate (of a private club, I might add).

Anonymous said...

Great video at the end.Absolutely hilarious.
However, NH's bellicose men in blue are not. Unfortunately I have to live under them. I have found, however, that the attitude of the police varies from to town. I live in a very rural town, within the state. My police department is pretty reasonable and pretty much leaves us alone. If they notice ( by recognizing your vehicle as it passes them ) that you are a resident of the town, they even tend to ignore minor speed limit violations. Its refreshing and makes for a pleasant small town experience. However, 15 miles to the north is a fairly large ( for NH standards) urban area. The police within that town tend to be nasty and edgy. The chief of that community is also rabidly anti- gun. The chief within my hometown, lives within the community and is older than most within the profession. I believe this plays a big part in the overall attitude of the department and its treatment of the citizens - within the community.

DrFix said...

Last video was a sad hoot! Isn't it ironic that while governmental storm troopers use video cameras as "evidence", while those being taped don't know its occuring and ostensibly didn't sign off on permitting them to do so, if you choose to do likewise that you're "wiretapping"?.... Seems the sauce doesn't suit the gander. Another lesson learned in all these articles recently is that its better to live in small communities or far away from the urban madness if at all possible.

DrFix said...

Oh, and another thing that I believe is patently "obvious" to the reality-based community, you can't "wiretap" anything that isn't clearly a utility such as the phone. So that limp wristed argument is a missing fig leaf in their non existant defense. Because if it were true then everytime you recorded your kids at the park or Disneyland or whatever, you'd technically be wiretapping and thus by extension guilty. For who knows... you might even catch sight of a cop, undercover even.... OOooooooohhh!

dixiedog said...

Indeed DrFix. This term wiretapping has seemingly become an all-encompassing term nowadays to ANY concealed listening/recording device even within the confines of your own property or business.

The way I see it, how could one call it "wiretapping" in the illegal sense when a person installs a CCTV system on their OWN premises or a recording device on their OWN phone?

It simply records the actions of another party, who invaded the premises to begin with. If one is averse to being taped and/or recorded in this situation, simply do not invade or trespass upon another's domain, either by phone or in person, if you don't want your yacking voice on record and/or your mug on "candid camera" respectively.

It seems like common sense to me, but that's a rare commodity these days.

DrFix said...

DD - Its no less absurd than using RICO laws to hammer on people who have done nothing mob related. But, then again, the biggest "mafia" around is the Fed. Hmmmmm.

Henry Bowman said...


I recall that there is a Federal law stating that if you record another person on your own phone, you have to tell them that you are recording the conversation. It's legal as long as you tell them.

I do not understand why people ever permit cops into their house! If a cop wants to ask you questions, never allow them into your house. It simply gives them information that they really do not ever need.

dixiedog said...

I recall that there is a Federal law stating that if you record another person on your own phone, you have to tell them that you are recording the conversation. It's legal as long as you tell them.

Right Henry, that's the problem. As far as the legalese goes, I think it's a matter of state law (imagine that!) and actually varies state by state.

Still, though, in my mind, you shouldn't have to "tell them" because that would defeat the whole purpose of installing the gear to start with. That's the whole idea of a "candid camera" or a "bug" on YOUR phone.

Everybody will be on their BEST and BRIGHTEST behavior if they invade your domain when they know beforehand that your abode is rigg'd for video and sound.

Nevertheless, your point is significant...the LAW is the LAW...sigh. Government at all levels, naturally, is largely exempt from that annoyance as there is no "Miranda" warning applicable to the gubmint wiretapping anyone.

Can you imagine this: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything and everything you say and do will be videotaped and used against you in a court of law."

Yep, I fantasize too much ;).

rick said...


i'm wondering if with all of this police abuse, we really even need them any more? it baffles me, whenever i see a gun mag, to see police in armored vehicles and....silencers? what the heck? why do police need silencers for? they ain't military...are they? maybe they're not military...yet. i think a lot of these officers need to go back to revolvers. you had few bullets and it kinda forced you to de-escalate a situation. i think maybe (as a joke) each freedom minded american ought to build a huge trap door pit on his doorstep so when bad cops show up, you press a button and presto! into the pungee stick pit!

i need to stop. it's just that these abuses piss me off. it's amazing the low caliber of people who are becoming policemen. man oh man.

sorry to have not been posting. wasn't sure what the problem was for a while.

Anonymous said...

wow some of this stuff is bad but obviously is twisted for the public to believe. Its really obvious especially with the taser case that something else was wrong. They did not mention that the autopsy report showed that the guy was on crystal meth which makes you not feel pain. Its a drug. So some of this stuff is really bad and hard to believe but just remember dont believe everything you read because all the facts are not in this.

Vanessa said...

Great post. The problem people often overlook though is that police have the power (power, not authority) to physically prevent you from recording. When I got arrested last year due to standing up for my rights, I attempted to take out my phone to record the interaction, but they simply took the phone from me. And then once again we're in a position of my word against theirs. If you have a legislative fix to THAT problem, I'd be all ears...