AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin police officer has been suspended without pay for 20 days after a video from November showed him blocking an activist from recording the scene of a traffic stop.
Officer James Maufrais has been with the department for 4 years, according to his attorney Brad Heilman, who thinks his client’s punishment is too harsh.
“He completely admitted to it, I think [there are] some mitigating factors that should’ve been taken into consideration and probably weren’t,” Heilman says, citing his recent history. “He was only on the streets for less than eight months after getting back from Afghanistan and being put on the streets… he’s just not used to someone recording him in such a short vicinity.”
Another officer, Jesse Lane, also blocked the activist with his body and by pointing a flashlight and was suspended for 10 days. Then-Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo called the officers’ actions “self-inflicted stupidity,” but said Maufrais’ actions were more “egregious” than Lane’s.
Phillip Turner, the activist who filmed that night, completely disagrees, saying the policy to allow citizens to film police is written in the APD manual.
“If he was asking me to stand back or [saying] I’m too close, now, I could see that, but for the flashlight, there’s no reason — there’s no way they can justify that,” Turner said.
Heilman says, “He knows that it wasn’t right to shine his flashlight into this guy’s camera and he’ll never do it again. I can assure you, he learned his lesson.”
Unlike “anarchist” groups in Austin, Acevedo said in November that Turner records officers in a respectful way and does not interfere with police activity. “[Turner] talks about how he believes most officers are good people, but he is of the strong belief that it is important to videotape officers to keep them honest.”
Turner’s previous police encounters
KXAN discovered three lawsuits Turner filed in the last two years against police departments in Round Rock, Ft. Worth and Austin. All have to do with officers’ response after he was asked why he was outside police departments with a video camera.
In February of 2017, a federal judge ruled in favor of Turner against Fort Worth police.
“The fifth circuit ruled on February 16 of 2017, that there’s a clear established right to film police officers and that covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi,” Turner said. “Now that I have that right clearly established, now people can film their own interactions with police officers without having to worry about being intimidated.”
In May of 2016, Turner won a partial victory from a federal judge who ruled Round Rock officers violated freedom of speech and illegal seizure tenants after they questioned, handcuffed and detained the 27 year old for videotaping outside the city’s police station in July 2014. The ruling denied an excessive force claim.
That suit showed he told police he was “videotaping the vegetation” in the area at the time.
Turner brought a third suit after being detained and searched outside APD’s north substation. The suit shows he was recording the rear parking area of the station from a property next door. Austin PD has not formally responded to the action filed Oct 11, according to court records. That case is still pending.
Turner says his work is not done.
“The goal is for a lot of people to pick it up and start filming their own interactions, I’m not going to stop until I see people filming their own interactions with police officers,” Turner said.