WILMINGTON – One year ago, Wilmington Police Sergeant Kenneth Becker became a viral sensation when he wrongly told an Uber-driving attorney that it was illegal to film law enforcement officers. Becker is now “separated” from the force, but he wasn’t fired over the Uber incident.
Becker stayed on the force for nearly a year before, at the end of January, he had his rank and pay restored — and backdated to September. The following day, Becker was off the force.
It’s not clear how – or why – Becker left the job just one day after getting a promotion and a raise from the city. Even the Police Department appears partially in the dark about how Becker was reinstated as, apparently, Becker’s demotion was overturned by the city’s Civil Service Commission, a little-known group that can overrule personnel decisions made by the department.
The traffic stop heard round the world
Becker was part of a task-force stop that detained Uber driver Jesse Bright because they suspected his passenger of being involved in a drug deal. Early in the stop, Becker told Bright to stop filming, saying “turn it off or I’m taking you to jail.”
Shortly afterward, an unidentified deputy with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Bright’s incredulous request to know what law banned filming law enforcement officers. The deputy told Bright “they just passed it.” That was not true.
Bright did not stop filming and, after he posted the video to Facebook, it went viral. The video received tens of millions of views on several YouTube channels. While both Becker and the NHCSO deputy both tried to get Bright to stop filming by incorrectly claiming it was illegal, it was Becker’s threat to take Bright to jail that apparently made him the unwilling star of the viral video.
The story attracted stories by the Washington Post, The Daily Mail and the New York Post, which ran the blunt headline “Cop gets demoted for lying to Uber driver” when, after several weeks of internal investigation, Becker was demoted to corporal and reassigned.
In a statement at the time, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said, “I cannot stress enough, that photographing and videotaping the police keeps us accountable. 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 confirmed that both Becker and the deputy were incorrect – but the deputy was never named and was not formally disciplined. Instead, he was “counseled,” according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jason Augst.
Becker’s demotion, no policy changes
According to Augst, McMahon instructed his staff to ensure that each deputy has been provided with information about the citizen’s right to record encounters with law enforcement officers.
The Wilmington Police Department, however, did not make any changes to its policies or training to ensure that officers were clear that the law allows the filming of law enforcement officers.
According to Spokeswoman Linda Rawley Thompson, Evangelous’ release was sent around to all officers as a reminder at the time of Becker’s demotion, but the department does not “believe any further efforts are necessary at this time.”
If Becker was to serve as an example, his sentence lasted only six months. After that, according to the Police Department, Becker was reinstated.
Pulling rank: Civil Service Commission reinstates Becker
According to the Wilmington Police Department, Becker was reinstated to his sergeant rank on Sept. 31, 2017, three months before he left the department.
Rawley Thompson declined to comment on Becker’s reinstatement, which followed a hearing at the city’s Civil Service Commission.
The Commission, which has authority over all law enforcement officers – except meter readers and the police chief – and, according to its charter, has the final say in overturning demotions or dismissals initiated by the Police Chief.
According to Assistant City Attorney Meredith Everhart, there is no other public information available about the commission or its hearings. Everhart and Wilmington City Clerk Penelope Spicer-Sidbury, who takes minutes for commission hearings, both declined to answer questions about the commission, the scope or extent of its authority or the substance of its meetings.
Everhart declined to give layman’s explanation of the commission, and referred only to its establishing documents.
However, based on the nature of the commission it seems the decision to reinstate Becker did not come from Evangelous or the Police Department. According to its charter, the commission hears appeals, but does not launch investigations or make unsolicited changes to rank, pay, or employment status.
Becker’s reinstatement appears to be the result of his appeal to the commission, which by all appearances outranks Evangelous. According to the commission’s charter, a demoted or dismissed employee has 10 working days to file an appeal, and the commission then has 60 days to hear that appeal.
Separation — with backdated pay?
Personnel record laws make it difficult to know how and why Becker was reinstated. They make it equally hard to know why he left the force.
Rawley Thompson declined to comment on Becker’s “separation” from the force on Jan. 31, 2018.
According to city emails, Becker appeared on a list of unsigned time cards dating back to Dec. 2017.
In January, Becker was moved from the “No Employee Approval” list to the “No Supervisor Approval” list – suggesting that Becker’s supervisor would not sign off on his time card. By mid-January, Becker’s name appeared on a Personnel Meeting appointment for Evangelous and Deputy Chief James Varrone.
Two weeks later, Becker was “separated.”
What’s odd is that, although Rawley Thompson said Becker was reinstated to sergeant in September, an EAR — employee action request — to reinstate him was filed on Jan. 30, 2018, three months later.
The EAR was filed by Jeanne Sexton and ultimately approved by City Manager Sterling Cheatham. The request retroactively reinstated Becker’s rank to sergeant and backdated an accompanying raise to late September.
The day after the city approved Becker’s backdated promotion and raise, he was off the force.
Rawley Thompson said she could not comment on the EAR or how it might affect Becker’s severance. She said she was unable to release information on whether or not Becker was receiving pension, healthcare or other benefits from the city or department following his separation.
Las Vegas Metro police shot and killed a 22-year-old man early Friday morning after he reached for a weapon and defied commands repeatedly, police said.
Officers Francisco Rivera, 28, and Padilla Mills, 23, were involved in the shooting in the 200 block of Madge Lane, near Charleston Boulevard and Sloan Lane.
Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Monday said officers were on their way to another call when they spotted Junior David Lopez driving recklessly with two women in a blue Chrysler 300.
“Hey, what are you doing? Stay in the car man,” one of the officers yelled. “Stay in the ****ing car! Don’t move! Do not ****ing move!”
When officers stopped the vehicle, Lopez got out of the vehicle with a Smith and Wesson Bodyguard .380 firearm in his hand then tossed it on the ground, police said.
Zimmerman said Lopez defied officers’ commands to put his hands up and step away from the weapon. Instead Lopez grabbed the firearm and raised it, he said.
“Hey, get away from the gun!” officers yelled. “Do not move! Don’t reach for the gun, man. Do not reach the gun.”
Officers believe the body camera footage shows Lopez twice saying the words “shoot me.”
“I don’t know what was going through his head, but he was given ample opportunity to be taken into custody and he wasn’t,” Zimmerman said.
Officers Rivera and Mills both fired their weapons. Lopez fell to the ground and rolled over. Police say he reached for the guns once more. Officer Mills fired one more round, striking Lopez.
“We’re going to need medical for the subject,” one of the officers said, over his radio. “He’s reaching. Don’t reach for it! … His 4-13 is about one foot from his left hand. Don’t!”
Lopez was taken to Sunrise Hospital where he later died at 5:15 a.m.
The two women in the car were not injured. One was Lopez’ girlfriend and the owner of the vehicle. The other was a friend.
Both women on Monday night.
“I remember when we got pulled over they told us to get the **** out of the car, for him to get the **** out of the car. Why don’t I hear that in the video?” said Lopez’s girlfriend, Amber. “He was the best thing in my life… He said, ‘Don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot me.’ You can’t hear the don’t, but you can hear him. ‘Don’t shoot me. Don’t shoot me.'”
Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman said 22-year-old Junior Lopez told officers to shoot him, twice.
“I don’t know what was going through his head but he was given ample opportunity to be taken into custody and he wasn’t.”
Lopez’s girlfriend said he was yelling, “Don’t shoot me!”
Lopez’s girlfriend also says officers told him to get out of the car… before they yelled at him to get back in the car. She argues that the first portion was conveniently cut out of the video released today.
“Everything they said is not true,” said Jorge Luis Martinez, Lopez’s father. “The video is not complete. ”
Lopez had one prior charge for false statement to a police officer in North Las Vegas in 2016
Both officers have been employed with Metro since May 2016. They are both assigned to the Community Policing Division Northeast Area Command. They were both placed on routine paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
How an anti-illegal immigration YouTuber turned a $280 fine into a federal criminal trial
It began as a $280 citation for using a video camera in a courthouse.
But to Gary Gileno, at stake was much more than the couple hundred bucks he was told to pay.
An attorney for the anti-illegal immigration activist and prolific YouTuber told a judge Friday that the four-hour trial over the fine was really about preventing government abuse of power, protecting the rights of journalists and ensuring that citizens can hold public officials accountable.
“If he is convicted … it’ll chill speech, it’ll chill journalism, it’ll say the federal government has a superpower to do whatever it wants,” attorney William Becker said. “This is unprecedented. This is what we expect to see in a police state.”
A federal prosecutor dismissed the rhetoric, arguing the Class C misdemeanor charge was simply about Gileno’s refusal to follow a security officer’s orders.
The unusual legal battle came after Gileno, 32, tried to bring a video camera into a meeting of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission last year. California law specifically allows the public to use recording devices at such meetings, but the commission’s meeting in August was held at a federal appellate court building where filming is prohibited.
Someone just detained at federal courthouse, where public Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission meeting takin place, 4 trying 2 take pic
The commission, a civilian panel set up to monitor the Sheriff’s Department and listen to public concerns about the agency, had been gathering in different locations around the county since it began meeting in January 2017. This was the first time commissioners had met at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals building in Pasadena.
As Gileno entered the courthouse, deputy U.S. marshals told him he had to leave his camera in his car. Gileno insisted he had a right to record the meeting under the First Amendment and the state’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, and began filming the officers.
After Gileno was cited, Robert C. Bonner, a former federal judge who chairs the commission, told The Times he wasn’t aware of certain provisions of the state’s open meetings law and relied on the county’s lawyers for legal advice.
Rather than pay the fine, Gileno opted to take his case to trial, facing a penalty of up to a $10,000 fine and 30 days in jail if found guilty.
Gileno, who began his YouTube career after showing up at his local council meeting in West Covina, said he has made a living off of his channel in recent years. His copious videos — 3,237 and counting — focus primarily on denouncing illegal immigration and promoting supporters of President Trump. His criminal case may have been a boon for his channel — a recent screed on his own prosecution was viewed more than 10,000 times.
On Friday, two court security officers who clashed with Gileno took the stand and testified that there were signs clearly posted saying photography wasn’t allowed in the courthouse. They said Gileno grew belligerent and disruptive, turning on his camera after being warned several times that it was not allowed.
Testifying in his own defense, Gileno said he was a freelance citizen journalist who has attended and filmed local government meetings and legislative town halls for about five years.
“I believe in the United States of America, you should be able to keep tabs on the government,” he said.
In more than 250 other public meetings he attended, he said, he never had an issue with bringing in his video camera. He said the security officer all of a sudden “exploded” at him, so he turned on his camera “to document what I felt was a violation of my rights at the time.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. Benedetto Lee Balding said Gileno’s disruption of security officers working at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was no small matter. It was Gileno who escalated the encounter by refusing to go along with the officers’ orders, he said.
“He decided unilaterally he didn’t have to follow the rules,” the prosecutor said.
Becker, who primarily represents conservatives and Christians in free-speech cases, worked for free on Gileno’s case. He argued that the federal courthouse essentially became a “limited public forum” when it hosted the commission meeting, which Gileno should have been allowed to film under the state law.
Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth said she could understand why Gileno was angry and frustrated given his past experience filming the meetings, but she said that didn’t excuse his failure to follow orders. Security at the appellate courthouse, where justices could be filmed without their knowledge, was a serious concern, the judge said.
“Even if these seem arbitrary or don’t make any sense to Mr. Gileno or anybody else, clearly they serve this very important purpose,” Rosenbluth said, finding Gileno guilty.
Acknowledging that a “misunderstanding” had led to the kerfuffle, the prosecutor recommended a sentence of no fine, which would leave Gileno having to pay just $35 in court fees. Rosenbluth said she felt the need for “some consequences” and ordered Gileno to pay a $50 fine, bringing his total penalty to $85 with the fees.
Gileno said he was “outraged” and “astounded.” After the verdict, he turned to nine supporters in the audience, including a man in a red “Make California Great Again” hat, and exclaimed, “I was never read my rights!”
His attorney said they would seriously consider an appeal and possibly a civil lawsuit against the government.
“What the judge just said is if a city council can move to a federal building, they can keep the meeting secret,” Gileno said. “That’s grossly illegal.”