15 Years in Prison…. for Recording a Traffic Stop

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Louis Frobe is facing hard time. Fifteen years in prison – the sort of sentence typically handed out for crimes such as second-degree murder and rape. Frobe’s crime?

He recorded a traffic stop.

Stopped for speeding in Lindenhurst, Illinois, Frobe attempted to document the event, including the conversation between himself and the traffic cop. After all, the cop was recording him and the cop’s video/audio record of the traffic stop could and probably would be used as evidence against Frobe in court, if Frobe decided to contest the speeding ticket. Moreover, Frobe was out in public – where the courts have ruled there is no expectation of privacy, period – and the cop who pulled Frobe over is a public official, performing his official duties.

But in some states, they – that is, the cops – see themselves as a protected class, entitled to special privileges, including a legal double-standard that says certain laws apply to us but not to them. This includes audio and video recording of them performing their (cough) “duties” – which in a truly masterful display of Orwellian Newspeak and doublethink –  they equate with eavesdropping – and for which they will try to slap you with a felony and destroy your life.

Here’s what happened to Frobe, from the actual audio recording of his traffic stop:

Cop: “That recording?”

Frobe: “Yes, yes, I’ve been …”

Cop: “Was it recording all of our conversation?”

Frobe: “Yes, officer.”

Cop: “Guess what? You were eavesdropping on our conversation. I did not give you permission to do so. Step out of the vehicle.”

The happy malevolence – the sadism – of the cop can be detected merely by reading the transcript. You can imagine how Frobe probably felt at this moment.

Frobe was handcuffed, carted off to jail and charged under state law with felony eavesdropping, which could lead to a prison term of fifteen years. He is now in the position of having to spend a large sum of money on legal representation, and meanwhile, his life is in limbo. Until the nightmare ends, he must endure every moment imaging the prospect of spending possibly a third of his life among the OJs and Scott Petersens of this world. His life is effectively ruined – even if he is ultimately vindicated by the courts.

The law, written for obviously different purposes (ironically, to protect unwary citizens who have had their phones tapped by investigators) is being used as a brutal tool of intimidation against ordinary citizens such as Frobe – or you and me – who dare to question the absolute, unaccountable authority of cops.

The prospect of a felony conviction – ruinous to a person’s reputation, their ability to find or maintain employment – let alone the prospect of being sent to prison, possibly to live for years among violent thugs – certainly gets the job done.

There’s already a big, hairy thumb pressing down one side of the scales of justice. In court, the word of a cop is considered almost holy writ,merely by dint of his being a cop. Meanwhile, the word of a citizen is essentially worthless. Even if the citizen is a person of unimpeachable character. The cop says the citizen did (or said) “x.” The citizen disputes this. Whose version will the court accept?

We all know the answer.

And we also know that cops can be corrupt, lying thugs. The video and audio evidence of this is irrefutable. YouTube has become a sort of public forum for revealing the actual conduct of some cops, in a way that cannot be denied or explained away by such bromides as “he was resisting arrest.” A recent, horrid example being the case of the homeless schizophrenic who was literally beaten to death by a gang of cops; the incident was – fortunately – recorded and it’s clear – thanks to the video evidence – that beat-down was egregiously unjustified; a murder, in plain English.

Which is precisely why some cops – and some states – are so determined to use any tactic, including the threat of a decade or more in prison, to keep what they do off the record and unaccountable to anyone other than themselves.

“They had audio and they had video on me, but I’m not allowed to do it (record) to them,” Frobe said later. “I’m in a private car on a public street and it’s a public official. Why shouldn’t I be able to record what’s going on to prove my innocence?” he asks.

Why, indeed.

In law, there was once a precept known as malicious (or criminal) intent. This was an essential attribute as far as defining any given action as criminal. Eavesdropping laws, for example, were written to protect people from having their private conversations recorded (absent a court order) without their knowledge or consent, for purposes of using those recordings against them – whether in the context of a court proceeding or otherwise (such as blackmail).

Where is the malicious/criminal intent in the case of a citizen documenting his own arrest? How, in any way, is the citizen perpetrating a harm against the cop?

The answer, clearly, is that the harm at issue is the “harm” not merely of possibly revealing that cops are not always saints (and sometimes, worse than devils) but, more deeply, of taking that big hairy thumb off the scales of justice. Of equalizing things between citizens and cops.

A video or audio recording means it’s no longer John Q’s (legally worthless) word against the legally near-unchallengeable word of a cop.

A video recording of a cop berating (or beating) a citizen – especially if it gets out on YouTube – well, we can’t have that. It undermines respect for The Law.

Higher courts have repeatedly thrown out arrests of citizens based on this twisted misuse of eavesdropping statutes, declaring them unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment, among other things. But that hasn’t prevented endlessly insolent police departments in Illinois and Maryland and elsewhere from continuing to threaten people with arrest and imprisonment – the mere prospect of which is sufficient to cow most people into abject, cringing submission, since for most people, even the thought of being charged with a felony, no matter how legally unsupportable and even if it will ultimately be thrown out, is a chilling prospect.

And that’s precisely what’s wanted: Fear – and submission.

The Law is irrelevant – not just what the courts rule The Law to be but right down to the core of it, the Constitution of the United States itself. It is effectively null and void. Authority does what it wills – because it is Authority.

The malignant precedent for this was set at the national level by The Chimp, who brazenly deeeecided he was not bound by any law and would rule by decree. It was called “executive order” or “executive privilege” – and the public blithely accepted it. Now it is routine practice, performed casually by The Chimp’s successor and every Little Chimp on down the line.

It will take a few brave souls such as Louis Frobe, willing to put themselves in harm’s way in defense of a principle, to put an end to this. If it is even possible to still do so at this late hour.

I hope it’s not too late.

But I fear it may be.

Throw it in the Woods?

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32 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Eric

    Here’s what you need whenever the cops stop you, and, of course, I found it on Amazon. They’re called spycams and look like a remote garage or security opener that you attach to your key chain. Here’s one on Amazon for $12.05 and another one for $11.29, and I’m seen one for $7.00. (I couldn’t include the links, but do search on Amazon for “spy cams.”) They’re cheap little things, made in China, as almost everyone on Amazon has to whine about, but that’s probably why they’re so cheap.

    They take pictures, and record like camcorders. The quality is not the best, but it doesn’t matter because when they are in cam mode, not a single light is flashing, but every word is recorded. The instructions are kind of hard to understand as they are written in – Chinglish? I think they call it that, but once you get the hang of it, it’s fun to play with. For more info look up 808 cameras. A lot lf people don’t like them, but maybe they’ve never been stopped by the police.

    I’ve got mine attached to my key chain so the next time my car is towed, I can detach my house keys (with the remote) from the car key. That way I can take it with me.

    If you’d like a picture and a little video I took with this, email me.

    Also, if you see the cops terrorizing or beating someone, all you have to do is get your keys out, point the “remote” in the general direction and you may pick up something.

  2. I don’t know what you’re all complaining about.
    This is the cop’s job.
    Get in a heavy, fast car, heavily armed, and roam the streets looking for trouble.
    We ought not to act surprised when they find it, or where.
    We pay them to do this.

    When this subject comes up, I believe libertarians have a responsibility to inform anyone listening that these “bad” cops aren’t bad – they’re doing their job.

    Stop the talk about good cops and bad cops. The “good” cops are 100% ok with the bad cops keeping their jobs and continuing to do this sort of thing. They aren’t “good cops” or “bad cops” – they’re only “cops”.

    If we as a society start having the right conversation – which involves whether or not we want to continue to support this “public service” at all – then we’ll see progress.

    But we. will. not. reform. them.
    This behavior goes back to the very beginnings of the constabulary in this country. It was always thus, and it will never be different with them.
    Sheriff Andy Griffith is a fictional character. Get over it.

    • I say your wrong. The county I live used to have a pretty descent police force. Got pulled over once for no tail light the cop told me to look while he proceeded to get in my truck with my two dogs licking his face and pushed the brake peddle and only asked me to get it fixed no ticket they were always polite and courteous.. Now they are a bunch of military special forces wanna be’s,totally unapproachable.

  3. Has anyone filed a wrongful arrest civil suit against them? Normally a policeman arresting a subject is immune from prosecution. However when the arrest is retaliation, I feel a jury might see that a little differently, especially considering the jury might be next. If the city behind that policeman has to pay for the policeman’s mistakes, they might view the situation a little bit differently if the policeman is in clear violation of the law.
    The classic question has always been: Who watches the policeman? And a lot of the law behind our bill of rights was designed to keep the policeman in check. So many of our people at the signing were from the jails of Europe. They were put there by the same kind of policemen that are now active here.
    My own feeling is that man has an enormous responsibility to defend our rights to freedom. He is literally putting his life on the line in the course of his duty as a policeman. He should be a hero not a villain.
    I know people shot in the line of duty. I have seen policemen buried by the scum of the Earth. There is another side to that man’s job. One I wouldn’t want to do. A man in a gutter apparently unconscious. Two cops died that night because he suddenly came out of a drug coma and fired a gun into the nearest targets.
    That is why every policeman needs to watch his behavior. He needs to defend the laws of our land. But at the same time, he is responsible for defending our rights. When he fails, that failure reflects on everyone.
    We need to fire those kinds of policeman. Get them off the force now. I do not know what they are teaching in the academy these days. But I do know that without the public support behind a policeman he or she is doomed. I am not sure what has become of our courts that they encourage this behavior. Remember, lawyers, you might be next . . . And it is the courts responsible for this behavior by either ignoring it or condoning it.
    Christ said it best. “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”
    Recording is one way of keeping that policeman under the watchful eye of the public. It is a way to keep them honest. If they are not honest, they do not belong on a police force period. There is too much room for neglect that puts innocents in jail otherwise.
    We all ready have an embarrassed court system. We are still picking up the pieces of innocent people jailed for rape that are now being proven innocent by DNA evidence.
    Oliver Wendel Holmes once said something like this. The court system has to maintain the “appearance” of justice to remain credible to the people.
    Well, look again . . . I think the current crop have lost the meaning of that saying.
    We used to have proverbs signs all over the high school where I was educated. One sign stated: Those that do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.
    Eventually the ax will swing back the other way. Eventually the policemen that do not follow what the laws say, will end up in jail. I have seen that happen too.
    History tells us that the policeman has to live with the justice he provides. Eventually a reaction occurs and he ends up either dead or in jail himself for crimes. That is why it is necessary for there to be a strict following of what the laws actually say. You cannot ignore laws you do not like. That is a big temptation for those in service of the laws.
    Yes, the police force needs to be on notice. There are literally millions of cell phones out there. It is ridiculous to even attempt to tell anyone in a public place they cannot record your actions. Are you going to arrest everyone? There is not a police force in the world large enough to do that.
    I suggest that you as a policeman be very strict in your enforcement of what you can and cannot do as a policeman in pursuit of your job. You never ever know who is recording what you do out there in the world.
    You too are on candid cameras everywhere. Remember, millions of people everywhere have cameras on their phones.
    Arresting anyone for recording you in your job is just plain stupid on the part of the officer and the court behind him. If you are honest you have absolutely nothing to fear from someone like this guy that is arrested.
    Technology has stripped you of any privacy you might have in doing your job.
    You can never know who is watching. Telephoto makes it possible to watch you from a distance. Even super audio is possible from a distance.
    Our satellites can tell what kind of toilet paper you are using in an open to the sky outhouse. The technology is that good. It has been that good since the early 60s.
    We are exploring galaxies almost 50 billion light years away with the same technology.
    Your only defense is to be strictly on the up and up and honest in the performance of your duties. If you are you have nothing to fear from someone watching what you do.

  4. Police all over America have been arresting civilians for some time for recording police actions in public. One by one all civilians are being found innocent in court or judges are simply throwing the cases out. Except for civilians to afraid to go to court, who instead accept plea bargains, I am not aware of any conviction for any such recording.

  5. I thought the Supreme Court just outlawed all this kind of nonsense? The police have no expectation of privacy when conducting their official duties in public places.

    • They have – but as with bans on radar detectors and so many other things, some states just ignore the rulings and proceed. Ultimately, “the law” is whatever the local authorities say it is.

    • That’s what usually happens in these cases. But you still get arrested and charged with a very frightening felony. This achieves the goal of scaring the crap out of people. It’s an intimidation tactic, pure and simple.

  6. For those of us inclined to do things like making video recordings of our “public servants”, it might not be a bad idea to know your state law (thanks, BrentP). If your state law prohibits recording public officials, contact your representative and tell them to fix it. Get up with your local Campaign for Liberty branch, 10th Amendment group, etc. and get the word out. Remember, non-governmental organizations (Like NRA, GOA, etc.) have been instrumental in getting right to carry laws passed. Get informed, get involved, get moving! One man can make a difference.

    If I am stopped, I will immediately and politely notify the officer I will be recording our interaction. If he refuses I will tell him I am calling 911 because I’m not sure he’s really a cop. There have been incidents of highway crimes committed by police impersonators right here in Missouri. We have been instructed to stay in the car and call 911 if we suspect this.

    I will then roll up my window, lock the doors, call 911 and request another department on the scene (i.e. if it’s a city cop, call for a sheriff’s deputy or highway patrol, etc.). I will keep the windows up, doors locked (so I won’t get dragged out of the vehicle), make no threatening jestures, keep the camera rolling and won’t talk to him. If it looks like he’s going to smash out the glass or shoot me, at that point I will drive away with the 911 operator on the line and head to the nearest cop shop.

    I may get in trouble, but it will sure beat a wood shampoo or electro-shock submission therapy. Plus it will put a ball of twine in their lawnmower blade temporarily, because I wouldn’t just submit.

    • Be very careful about that. Cops tend not to care about the advice their departments and governments give people with their official communications. I’ve seen videos where cops get out right angry and even belligerent towards people who don’t pull over immediately. So I don’t care if it’s safe or not for the cop, I pull over immediately. If his ass has to be out in traffic so be it. If he doesn’t like it he’ll let me know to move elsewhere. But in any case doing exactly what they advise in press releases and so on might not turn out too good. These people cannot be counted on to follow their own preachings.

      • I am watching C-SPAN right now and I can’t help but notice Hilary Clinton looks strikingly similar to Benjamin Franklin! Sorry, just had to say that.

      • I try to be practical, as I see it. So if a cop turns on his lights, etc. I tap my brake, signal and pull off to the right as far as I reasonably can as soon as I reasonably can. I put the car in Park, shut off the engine and turn the blinkers on. If it’s dark out, I’ll turn on the dome light. Then I put my hands on the steering wheel and wait. (The latter is very important if you have a CHP and are carrying.) When the cop comes up to the car, the first thing out of my mouth is “Here’s my license and CHP; I am (or am not) carrying. How would you like to proceed?”

        VA law does not require me to inform the cop of my CHP status, but he probably knows already by having run my plate and besides, it’s a good tactical move. That and pulling off the road as far as possible. It’s no skin off my nose and it shows consideration for the cop (from his point of view, mind – not that he necessarily deserves it). This has – in my experience – lowered tension, which is good for your safety. I do not, however, “yes, sir” cops. I’m older than most of them and have more education, so to hell with that. They’re entitled to civil – not deferential – treatment.

        I don’t answer leading questions. I provide my ID and that’s pretty much it. Either he’ll ticket me or he won’t. If he does, the less evidence I give him, the better it will be for me in court. I try to be as forgettable and mild-mannered as I can be, in order to conclude the exchange as quickly as possible and be on my way.

  7. All the reporting on these events in Illinois leaves out one big thing, the actual law. In the eavesdropping law there are exceptions. One of the exceptions is for an in car video/audio system. Why? To keep the cops legal. However unlike most modern laws, it is written correctly and has no special application to cops. It explicitly states that recording traffic stops is legal.

    (720 ILCS 5/14.3)
    Sec. 14.3. Exemptions. The following activities shall be exempt from the provisions of this Article:
    (h) Recordings made simultaneously with the use of an in.car video camera recording of an oral conversation between a uniformed peace officer, who has identified his or her office, and a person in the presence of the peace officer whenever (i) an officer assigned a patrol vehicle is conducting an enforcement stop; or (ii) patrol vehicle emergency lights are activated or would otherwise be activated if not for the need to conceal the presence of law enforcement.
    For the purposes of this subsection (h), “enforcement stop” means an action by a law enforcement officer in relation to enforcement and investigation duties including but not limited to, traffic stops, pedestrian stops, abandoned vehicle contacts, motorist assists, commercial motor vehicle stops, roadside safety checks, requests for identification, or responses to requests for emergency assistance;

    So, the law as usual does not even matter any longer. It is simply pure thugism, through and through.

    • Somebody should put together a surveillance system for private cars. One that looks out all the windows (especially where a cop would be standing) and have a microphone on it too.

      • Dom, somebody already has. If you’re the military, a corporation or rich you can get this one: http://www.dootechnologies.com/360-camera-for-mobile-assets.html

        Fortunately for the rest of us, Fuji working on this for around $39: http://www.slashgear.com/fujitsu-3d-360-degree-car-camera-system-gets-new-soc-20108852/

        Doesn’t look like the Fuji system has audio though. But it shouldn’t be too hard to add that or at least use a small digital audio recorder and sync it later. Based on the need now here in the USSA, I’m sure that someone will come up with the ‘Record-A-Cop’ plug and play here shortly. It’s a shame we need such a thing.

        • I am all about a record-a-cop in a box and think EVERYONE should have one. Especially if the cost is only 40 bills. Have to be a tod not to have one. I’m not scared of much, but cops scare me.

          • If it’s $40 I would probably replace my camera with it provided I could mount it such that I could easily move it from car to car. Even if came at some sacrifice to the 360degree vision.

          • THAT is the worst part, Dom.

            I’m not afraid of criminals; my trusty HK USP and some wits on my part are all that’s needed.

            But cops? They scare the hell out of me, because you can’t defend yourself. If your pesky arm gets in the way of their baton while they’re beating your head, you’re “resisting arrest” or perhaps even “assaulting an Officer”.

            We are the Mundanes. They are the Exalted Ones.

          • Even without a firearm I fear cops far more than criminals. Criminals largely remain with in their own groups. Those that don’t are largely looking for material things. Cops however are geared to ruin the lives or day(s) of strangers for career advancement and sport while still seeking to steal the wealth, and what’s worse is they can often do it without the fear of punishment from their victims or the state.

    • Your posting of Sec. 14.3 is appreciated. Since laws are generally becoming more lopsided in favor of unfettered government control, I was surprised to see those exclusions. With the ninth and tenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution ignored as irrelevant, the Bill of Rights is becoming more like a Bill of Exclusions or Bill of Grants – an eroding island of transitory state issued privileges in a rising sea of government powers.

  8. Cops do not, have never, enforced the law with the intent in which it was intended. Their position has always been: the law is the law. But they don’t even understand what that means. They take it to mean that the law should be enforced to the letter of the law. That’s just ignorance. I receieved a ticket once on my bicycle. There was a city ordiance that you could not ride your bike at a certain time of day on a certain sidewalk. Certainly this ordiance was in place for a reason. Maybe it was a busy pedestrian time of day and there had been complaints of kids recklessly riding their bikes and bumping into people. Who knows, but in any case, I was ticketed at 8 pm, when there were 6 other people on this wide sidewalk. I wasn’t even riding, I was sittin on it and pushing myself along with my feet, being respectful of others, just like I would do in any situation. But the little female cop with the huge chip on her shoulder b/c her father didn’t love her, pulled her car up on the sidewalk like Dirty Harry, jumped out like Barney Fife and demanded I stop. She called for backup b/c it was such a dangerous situation, and wrote me a ticket for $74.

    This is also a good example of the problem with laws. One person does something wrong so a law is passed that punishes EVERYONE. That’s unjust, immoral and wrong.

  9. It’s hard to believe this is even possible! I think cops should have cameras permanently fastened to them and their cars, and monitor every movement they make while in uniform. It’s bullshit there are surveillance and speed cameras pointed at us, we are private citizens scooting along minding our affairs. I think the law should ask that we, as citizens, video record a cop any time we have the opportunity and post it all to the web. To please include the date, time, and location. If the law is to be fair we need to see the troof and understand the facks.

    • Most police cars have video recorders. But in case after case, when the cop knows that the recorder shows him in a bad light, the recording simply disappears.

  10. As Thomas Jefferson, a man whose ideas & practices I hold dear, said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty”. While it may not be smart to fight the government, I resist them every chance I get. Remember: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Cheers.

    • Amen.

      I don’t like conflict; I prefer to avoid it when possible. I think most reasonable people share this attitude. But at some point, you have to be willing to take a stand, even if it means you’ll pay a price. Americans have got to relearn this – and live it – if we are to pull back from the abyss.

      • Agreed. It takes a certan kind of psychopath to want to physically hurt someone else or imprison them for something like this. A certain kind of delusion that cops seem to posses. At some point we simply have to come together as a society and say: NO MORE! If the gov gets its authority from us, then why can’t we give ourselves that same authority? Why can’t we form “Community Protection” patrols and do what the cops should be doing: protecting and serving. Only we protect the community FROM the abusive cops. Cops are not specially endowed human beings. They are just normal people. Their advantage? They have guns and they are organized. Well, we have guns too, we just need to organize.

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