WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — An attorney is speaking out after he says two law enforcement officers told him it was illegal to film them during a traffic stop.
Jesse Bright said he was pulled over on February 26 by the Wilmington Police Department and a deputy from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.
Bright is an attorney, but he said he is also an Uber driver. Bright said he was taking a fare on a round trip when he was pulled over near Dawson and 16th streets.
“I explained that I was an Uber driver and that, you know, my passenger, I don’t even know him,” Bright said.
Bright said the Wilmington Police Officer told Bright he had just taken his passenger to a known drug house.
“They questioned me and what I was doing there,” Bright said. “Didn’t seem to believe I was an Uber driver.”
Then, Bright said the officer noticed he was recording.
“Sgt. Becker told me it was illegal to film the police and told me to turn it off or he would take me to jail,” Bright said.
Bright did not stop recording. A Wilmington Police spokeswoman confirmed Sgt. Kenneth Becker was the officer involved in the case.
“I knew that he was just trying to coerce me to not film him anymore,” Bright said.
As an attorney, Bright said he tells all his clients to record interactions with law enforcement.
“I didn’t want to see anyone get fired or anything come of this I really just want people to understand their rights.”
Bright said his biggest concern is that this is happening often.
“If he’s willing to directly lie to me, and tell me you know this is against the law to film police, then it worries me you know most people when they’re given an order by an officer they don’t know that it’s an unlawful order,” Bright said.
The wilmington police department has launched an internal investigation.
“The police department contacted me,” Bright said. “He assured me that recording the police was in my right and that I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Bright already knew that. He just wants to make sure you know that.
“You know to stand up to police if you do so lawfully. If you’re within your rights you can tell an officer no I’m not going to do that. You don’t have to be afraid to just to listen to everything that they say.”
No one was arrested that day. A spokeswoman with the Wilmington Police Department said they have launched an internal investigation regarding the recent video-tape on February 26, of the interaction between one of their Police Sergeants and an Uber Driver.
“Taking photographs and videos of people that are in plain sight including the police is your legal right,” Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said. “As a matter of fact we invite citizens to do so when they believe it is necessary. We believe that public videos help to protect the police as well as our citizens and provide critical information during police and citizen interaction.”
New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon said he has viewed the Uber driver’s video and believes it is clear that Officers were incorrect in stating that it was illegal to record the encounter. Not only does the Sheriff agree that it is legal to record encounters, he invites citizens to do so. As a result, the Deputy involved has been counseled.