YouTube video

The efforts of cop watchers and First Amendment auditors to record police continues to be a controversial subject. Some use aggressive tactics that critics say go too far, others argue the country’s law-enforcement-industrial complex needs to be aggressively challenged to yield results. PAR examines the contours of this debate through the case of Denver cop watcher DJ Kdot the party. DJ Kdot was arrested by police in Aurora, Colorado, for allegedly interfering with an investigation while filming a traffic stop. What happened when the case went to trial reveals much about the state of cop watching today, the extent of our First Amendment protections, and the expansive reach of the US criminal justice system.

Pre-Production/Studio: Stephen Janis
Post Production: Stephen Janis, Dwayne Gladden


Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible. And today we’re going to achieve that goal by examining the arrest of a cop watcher and reporting on what happened when the case went to court. But we’re also going to use the case as a prism through which we can examine the different approaches and philosophies that define the movement itself. But before we get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at, and please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and appreciate them.

And of course you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And of course, if you can, please hit the Paton donate link pinned in the comments below, because we do have some extras there for our PAR family. Okay, now we’ve gotten that out of the way.

Now, if there’s one thing the show does regularly, it’s report on cop watchers across the country. Certainly along with reporting on bad cops, we take the time to examine the work, the progress, and of course often the arrests of cop watchers who use their cell phones to hold police accountable. I mean, just think of the people that we have featured on our program in the past: David [Borin], James Freeman, James Madison, Blind Justice, Laura Shark, Tom Zebra, Eric Brandt, Liberty Freak, the Batusi, and LackLuster, just to name a few.

And one of the reasons we do this is not to just highlight the videos of their encounters and how police react, it’s because there’s something else going on in this movement that we think is worth examining, an important aspect of the work that both auditors and cop watchers do that warrants further examination. I mean, let’s remember it was just one month ago that we reported on the fact that Eric Brandt and Liberty Freak now have a chance to change case law in the Tenth Circuit Federal Court. That’s because they have a lawsuit pending over this encounter with an Aurora Colorado cop who tried to block them from recording and thus infringed upon their First Amendment rights. And as  we’ve reported on before, that case now actually has support from the US Department of Justice and groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

So it suffices to say that cop watching is not only an important facet of activism against bad policing, but a phenomenon that has its own peculiar sense of aesthetics and approach, which is why today we’re going to be looking at this video from cop watcher named DJ Kdot. We first encountered DJ Kdot when we were in Colorado covering the sentencing of Eric Brandt, who notably received 12 years for making threats against judges. He told us then that he had actually connected with Eric after he was arrested and the two had discussed to strategize on Kdot’s defense. Let’s listen.


DJ Kdot:       So many people see that particular side but they don’t see the loving side of Eric Brandt. He’s really genuine, he takes care of his friends. He’s a genuine person. And he’s the godfather. Period. I said it first, not first, but I’m the one who said he’s the godfather and you don’t get a hold of Eric Brandt, he gets a hold of you. And that’s exactly what happened with me. He got a hold of me. I don’t know how he got a hold of me, but he got a hold of me as soon as I was released from jail from the first time I got arrested. So yeah.


Taya Graham:     So DJ Kdot told us that he was a fan of Eric Brandt and that he had been influenced by his approach, which is often confrontational. Let’s listen.


DJ Kdot:        When I have these discussions with my wife, not my wife, my Black counterparts, my Black constituents, they’re saying, you’re crazy, and we don’t do that, that’s our culture, we don’t mess with the police like that. We do not mess with them. So we make it home. That’s what we’re taught. We’re taught to make it home. You understand. And so the thing is, when I get comments from white counterparts who are saying, oh, well, he’s an angry Black man. No, I’m just tired. And when you’re tired, that’s when you really start to step up and be like, okay, it is what it is.


Taya Graham:      But the reason we’re discussing DJ Kdot today is because of the development in one of his cases and what it says about the state of cop watching today. It concerns a car stop that he witnessed and videotaped that led to his arrest. But it’s more than just an example of police officers deciding to put handcuffs on a cop watcher. The reason we want to discuss this case is because it exemplifies a debate within the cop watcher community. What is the best approach to watching cops and what generates the most productive outcomes? Put simply, is it better to be aggressive or take a more passive approach? It’s a discussion that has real ramifications for both cop watchers and the state of policing today. Because whether you like cop watchers or not, there is no group of people who are out there actively watching and holding police accountable than cop watchers.

Now granted, I’m a journalist. And I like to think that I do a lot of work in that regard, but I’m not out there every day with a camera watching cops and posting on YouTube. And that’s why it’s important to discuss just how cop watchers work. And certainly, there is no consensus even among the people who do it the most. Let’s recall an interview we did with one of the most popular YouTubers, Lackluster, where I asked him that very question. And I remember this discussion vividly because he said something that I think is profound and worth considering.


LackLuster:          It’s one of those divisive communities. You’re either all in or you’re all against. And I guess there’s even some division within the community with the way people audit. I hear a lot of people make the argument that the cool, calm, demeanor is the right way to go. You catch more flies with honey type of thing. And then you have some of the really volatile auditors that start off with vulgarities immediately. And even in that sense, my view on that is I think that law enforcement kind of needs to be exposed to both. They’re going to scenes where people aren’t going to be, sugar and honey or milk and honey, and they need to know how to approach those scenes appropriately. So if it’s always clean and sterile, they’re never going to know how to act appropriately on those calls. So I personally see a benefit from both styles of auditing.


Taya Graham:       I think his point is important in how we think about cop watching. That is, we can’t just look at it as a traditional form of activism, but as a fluid process, a public accountability that is both creative and sometimes provocative. And that’s what also can make it effective with occasionally very unexpected outcomes. In fact, when we were in Denver we spoke to cop watcher Munkay 83, who discussed with us how his approach evolved and how he was influenced by Eric Brandt. Let’s listen.


Denver:     I was trying to do what everybody calls being an auditor, and then it just didn’t work. My first time, I would’ve had a cop that was messing with me for 25 minutes. And I tried asking him questions and he just kept on talking over me and being a Bostonian, our attitudes tend to come out a little bit and I told him to fuck off, and it felt really good, and I just kept on doing it. And I was kind of conflicted because that’s not what auditors were doing at the time. Auditors were this professional going and asking questions and using verbal judo and all this and all that. And I can do that. It’s just way more relieving to me to say, fuck the police.


Taya Graham:    Which brings me back to DJ Kdot. As you can see in this video, he confronted police who had pulled over a woman in Aurora, Colorado in January 2020. At first the encounter was somewhat playful, but as you can see, one could say Kdot himself escalates it. Let’s watch.


DJ Kdot:           Yeah. So it seems like we have a little traffic stop going on in here, and they’re checking her vehicle.

Police Officer 1:  So here’s the deal, bud. You can stand right there –

DJ Kdot:              Hey, I don’t need directive. Do your job. Thanks. Appreciate it. [crosstalk] I got it. I got it from here, guys.

Police Officer 2:  You’re not done.

DJ Kdot:             You just do your job. Okay. Thanks.

Police Officer 1:   I’m just advising you.

DJ Kdot:           I don’t need your directives. I know what I’m doing. Keep doing your job. [crosstalk].

Police Officer 1:    …Come any closer –

DJ Kdot:             You can be quiet now. You can be quiet now, [crosstalk]] you can be quiet, sergeant. You can be quiet.

Police Officer 1:   You have been warned.

DJ Kdot:               Warn me on what?

Police Officer 1:    That if you come to me closer to these [crosstalk].

DJ Kdot:              Public property, public property, sir. [crosstalk].

Police Officer 1:     …You can be charged with obstructing an investigation –

DJ Kdot:              And you can shut the hell up and go to hell. How about that?


Taya Graham:         Finally, after teams like the officers have had enough, DJ Kdot is arrested.


DJ Kdot:               [inaudible] you have a ego [crosstalk] you have a ego man, you have a ego –

Police Officer 1:  I don’t know if you know this or not, but you have a warrant for your arrest, okay?

DJ Kdot:           What?

Police Officer 1:    And it is valid.

DJ Kdot:               What?

Police Officer 1:      We’ve confirmed with our records department that you have a warrant for your arrest. So what I need you to do right now –

DJ Kdot:                   [crosstalk] I don’t have the warrant for my arrest. You kidding me? I don’t have a warrant. For what?

Police Officer 1:      So I need you to comply with what we say. You’re under arrest.

DJ Kdot:               For what?

Police Officer 1:   You’re physically under arrest.

DJ Kdot:                   For what?

Police Officer 3:    Obstructing a police officer [crosstalk].

DJ Kdot:                What? I don’t have – Obstructing a police officer?

Police Officer 3:    Put your phone down.

Police Officer 1:   You’re under arrest.

DJ Kdot:              You’re lying. You’re lying.

Police Officer 3:     Put your phone down.

DJ Kdot:                    Guys –

Police Officer 3:  Right now you’re just going to go to jail on warrant –

DJ Kdot:                Guys, guys, guys –

Police Officer 3: …If you want new charges –

DJ Kdot:                Guys –

Police Officer 3:    …Then I need you to set the phone down.

DJ Kdot:             Guys.

Police Officer 1:      So you have a warrant.

DJ Kdot:               You see this right? You see this right? Hold on. Hey –

Police Officer 1:    Give me your hand.

DJ Kdot:                  Hey.

Police Officer 1: So you do have a warrant for your arrest [inaudible] your phone. We’ll record for you [inaudible].


Taya Graham:       But that’s not where the story ends, not hardly. Because DJ Kdot had his day in court. And for more on what happened, I’m joined by my reporting partner Stephen Janis. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.

Stephen Janis:     Taya thanks for having me, I really appreciate it.

Taya Graham:          So Stephen, first, what happened during his trial? What was the outcome?

Stephen Janis:      So a jury of his peers, six jurors found him not guilty of obstruction, not guilty of interfering with an investigation. So basically, three of the cops actually showed up to testify. So they were really bringing everything against him, but obviously the people, his peers from that city said, this is not a crime. So I think it’s a big victory for him and a big victory for cop watching.

Taya Graham:       Now you reached out to Aurora, Colorado, police for comment. What did they say?

Stephen Janis:      Well, I haven’t heard back from him yet, but I asked him questions. My main question was, was this worth it? Was it worth charging him, going through a jury, trial, prosecution, et cetera, on something that really was just clearly a First Amendment violation of his rights. And I have not heard back. But like I said always, when I do hear back I’ll either mention it in the next show or put it in the comments.

Taya Graham:   Stephen, you’ve covered policing for over 15 years. Just out of curiosity, what’s your take on cop watching? What do you think is the most effective approach?

Stephen Janis:    This is really interesting to me because I thought about it a lot. I covered Zero Tolerance where 100,000 people were arrested every year in the city, and everyone was so calm about it. The police had this rhetorical asymmetric warfare that they use, where they make things that are actually quite horrible seem commonplace. We arrested him, they write these statements of probable cause, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And yet really, rhetorically they have such an advantage that the atrocities seem commonplace. And I think that’s part of the reason cop watchers react the way they do. Because in a sense, police are doing things in a very managerial, non-controversial way that actually are quite controversial. And I think there’s too much passivity sometimes in the way us traditional journalists handle it. And why sometimes cop watchers do what some people might say is to act out. I think about it a lot. It’s a great question. I really like listening to all the people talk about it. But from my perspective, sometimes things that seem okay because of the way we cover them, sometimes need an exaggerated response.

Taya Graham:          And now for more on his arrest and his day in court and how this is affecting him and what he thinks about cop watching in general, I’m joined by DJ kdot. DJ kdot, thank you for joining me.

DJ Kdot:               My pleasure.

Taya Graham:       So tell us what we’re seeing in the video. What were you doing? It looks like you were recording a traffic stop performed by the Colorado Police. Why did you feel it was so important to record this stop?

DJ Kdot:           So I am… yes. I recorded the traffic stop. I saw a member of my community. I was driving down Colfax, seen her, and I felt that she was a bit in distress being surrounded by more than two officers. And so I parked the car, walked up the street and started recording license plates and vehicle numbers just to make sure… It’s kind of the same thing as far as when a cop does a traffic stop and puts his fingerprint on the back of a vehicle. So just to make sure for my safety I know exactly what vehicles were involved and who were driving. So I’m simply just observing.

Taya Graham:      Now the first officer says you can stay at a certain distance to record, and that you can stay at a certain distance without being considered interfering with an investigation. So why did so many police officers come to the scene and why were you arrested?

DJ Kdot:              The scene was actually in the street. So I believe he… And that’s what I was going off initially, not to be in the scene as far as in the street. So when he stated, if you come closer, I thought he was verbalizing basically in the street. As long as I’m not in the scene. Regardless, it’s still public property. I was still on the sidewalk and the grassy area. And so they just didn’t want me there. And not only that, in the testimony from three of the officers, they had full debriefings anyway. So they already knew who I was.

Taya Graham:        Now you won the obstruction case against the Aurora Police Department. Why is this a win for the First Amendment community and the cop watching community?

DJ Kdot:              They added a charge of obstruction because I was there on the scene. I was basically there recording them. So once they arrested me for the warrant they added a charge. And I didn’t even know they added a charge until I actually left the Denver County Jail. And I’m like, what’s this yellow ticket? And then it says that I was charged with obstructing the police officer. This is a win for the First Amendment community because now, even though it’s an admissible case, it’s still case law. And it’s in the books, at least for Aurora, that now it sends shock waves to the whole entire police department that, okay, we can’t just throw out obstruction like water, and we can’t just stop people from filming. And so this is a huge win for the one A community. And a lot of people from the one A community were watching this like on pins and needles, because a lot of them conversed with me and was just like, damn, if you lose this case, it’s kind of saying that our war is off limits for cop watching.

Taya Graham:          There is a lot of controversy surrounding the auditor cop watcher community. People say that auditors are purposefully provocative to get attention and views. How do you respond to people who say that you were rude or using profanity or trying to provoke a conflict? How would you explain the importance of your work?

DJ Kdot:           My style in particular is that the mission statement is nonviolent. Everybody [leaves safely] from the scene, even if it sacrifices my freedom. The thing is, my style is basically if you’re cool with me, I’m cool with you. But if you want to be inappropriate and stop me from doing what I’m lawfully allowed to do, which is in my First Amendment rights too, whether it’s cussing you out or anything that type of stuff, that doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day that’s my style and that’s how I’m going to project to that. And I have a legal right to do so.

And if you notice in the video I didn’t approach anyone. They were approaching me and it was sort of… I mean, if you try to pick up a rattlesnake and the rattlesnake is living their best life and you try to touch it and move it around, you’re most likely going to get bit. It was more of a defense mechanism. And a lot of people say, oh, well, you can get a lot of flies with honey. Well, I don’t like flies. But I do like diamonds and I love diamonds, and if you put enough pressure on coal you will get a diamond. So, and that’s what I want my police department to be is diamonds. I don’t want them walking around like maggots and flies. I want them walking around and shining like diamonds.

Taya Graham:       So I think it’s interesting that we’re confronted with an idea of activism that is certainly not easily defined and, of course, extremely complex. I mean, just a cursory review of YouTube channels that feature cop watching can run the gamut from outright absurdity, to confrontation, to passive videography. And I think that’s what makes it such an interesting topic to cover. One never knows what’s going to happen next. And one really doesn’t know how the work of cop watchers will affect the process of policing in the long run. But there’s another facet of cop watching that I think is somewhat overlooked and ignored that needs to be addressed. Something about cop watchers I want to highlight as a way to broaden the debate over whether or not it’s worthwhile at all. So what do I mean? Well, it starts with an idea that I read in a piece by the late anthropologist David Graeber.

So Graeber was an outspoken leftist and philosopher who wrote adroitly on a variety of subjects in ways that always challenged my perspective and assumptions about topics I thought I already understood. For example, he wrote a book on the history of debt which brought new context to the idea of free markets and the origins of money. He also explored the proliferation of so-called bullshit jobs which revealed how the uber elite create fictitious occupations just so they can enrich themselves while the rest of us toil away. But the essay that had the most profound effect on me was a piece called “Dead Zones of Imagination.” In it, Graeber describes dealing with an indifferent bureaucracy when his mother was seeking a spot in a nursing home. He talked about how the violence of the state is expressed through bureaucratic meandering and indifferent public officials. But what was even more interesting to me was how Graeber described the cumulative effect of exercising this unique power on the people subject to it.

It wasn’t necessarily the direct oppression of denying a vital service or making them jump through an infinite series of bureaucratic hoops. What Graeber illuminated that was even more profound was the psychological toll of this process, that the power of the state to govern civic life through violence created dead zones of imagination. That is, the imbalance between governance and the people created a space where the imagination of the community was simply overwhelmed. Now that may sound like a weird way to look at bureaucracy, but I think it’s truly useful. I mean, we all have this picture in our head of the impassive bureaucrat staring at us from a desk telling us that we can’t have this service or that benefit. But what I think we don’t realize is that the power vested in other people over us, especially when it’s indiscriminate, can limit our perception of ourselves, like who we are and what human rights are.

In other words, unchecked power literally affects our minds. And that’s why cop watching is so intriguing, because nothing limits our sense of civic agency than the power conferred on police officers to arrest, confront, or otherwise tell us what to do. Nothing or no institution has more power to police our public spaces and our bodies than cops. And no institution has the broad and almost unlimited capacity to take our assets or property or otherwise violate our expectations of personal space. Then law enforcement, in fact, police create the most destructive dead zone of all of our public institutions by making us subject to the whims of an indifferent state power. So in a sense, cop watching and auditing is confronting that power in ways that actually anticipated grievous concerns. I mean, as our debate on this show illustrates, cop watching may make us uncomfortable and is clearly controversial, but it’s also unpredictable and unorthodox tactics may be best suited for the task at hand.

I mean, you can’t confront a state power that steals your imagination without being, for lack of a better word, imaginative. I mean, we need to consider the cop watcher as a sort of canary in the coal mine of a country that is clearly sliding down the path of flawed public policy and perhaps even anti-democratic impulse. But I’m not talking about this purely from an ideological perspective. We have discussed over and over again how policing in some form is antithetical to democracy itself. But maybe it’s important for us to think about cop watching as an art form, not just activism, meaning something more complex or unpredictable than a pure political movement. That means that it’s not just a response to the injustices perpetrated by the police, but a reflection of the madness that underlies it. Let me try to clarify. Consider this article in the Washington post about the growth of a phenomenon explicitly prohibited by federal law: debtors’ prison.

It’s a legal ban that was affirmed by the Supreme court in 1983 in a decision known as Bearden v. Georgia. But, as the post notes, there are currently a myriad of people across the country who are incarcerated because they can’t pay fines or court costs. That’s right. At this moment across our nation 100s if not 1000s of people are locked in a cage because they are too poor to pay to get out. This is true even though federal law explicitly prohibits it. Now to be fair, judges have some leeway to determine if a person is unable to pay or simply refusing to do so. But I also think it’s important to point out that this debt is often the result of people paying for their own incarceration, probation, ankle bracelets, surveillance, and more. In other words, our criminal justice system has the power to monetize people by using the law and then throwing them in a cell when they can’t afford or refuse to pay the tab.

Sounds like a pretty good business model to me. But the reason I bring this up is because perhaps it explains some of the uncomfortable and often controversial antics that we find in cop watching today. I mean, if we live in a country that supposedly banned the practice of debtor prisons 200 years ago, how can we reconcile the fact that it still exists? I mean, what’s crazier? A bunch of people confronting cops with cell phones, or a country that doesn’t even follow its own laws. Therefore, I think it’s important that we keep an open mind about how we think about and analyze cop watching. I mean, do we truly understand what’s driving it? Can we really judge some of the absurd tactics of cop watchers or their confrontations without fully understanding what they’re responding to? That’s why I think cop watching is not just as a form of YouTube activism, but as a mirror of sorts that reflects another reality that we’re not necessarily connected to or cognizant of. An art form that reflects and depicts reality that we can’t reconcile or fully comprehend.

And listen, I understand that some people might take my argument and say, what are you doing but making excuses for bad behavior? Like why are you trying to justify the actions of people who should know better? Well, I think that’s an important point. And I mean, I’ll be honest myself. Personally, I could never do what many cop watchers do. And I find some of the videos really uncomfortable. And even in the case of Eric Brandt, the threats he made to judges were inexcusable and wrong. But as a reporter and maybe also a cultural critic, I like to look at things and perhaps consider there’s something I’m not seeing. And that’s why I’m asking you to consider cop watching not just as a process or activism, but as a unique form of an unpredictable cultural commentary, a collective work of rebellion that reflects the absurdity and the hypocrisy of a society that refuses to follow its own laws.

In fact, to drive this point home, I will let Eric Brandt himself have the last word as he describes an encounter with a Denver judge who had ordered him not to wear a t-shirt that he found offensive in court. Eric, being Eric, showed up in court wearing a robe, but not a shirt, which led to an exasperated judge searching for a way to reign him in, all of which prompted Eric to say this to the Judge as he was escorted out of the courtroom. Let’s listen.


Eric Brandt:               When I came in with the spaghetti strainer on my head – That broke him. He went from his usual in-control cocky self. He was deflated, his hair was flat, he couldn’t hardly speak. He wouldn’t lift his head. And as we were walking out, he says, Mr. Brandt, you have made a mockery of this judiciary every time you have come in here. And I turned and looked at him smartly. And I said, but your Honor, I am but the mirror. And I walked out.


Taya Graham:        Well, I think Eric really said it all. And I really want to know what you think about cop watchers and auditors. Please leave a comment below. I promise I will read it and maybe I’ll even be able to include a few in the next episode. I want to thank my guest DJ Kdot the cop watcher for taking the time to speak with us today. Thank you. And of course I want to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, his research, and his editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.

Stephen Janis:    Taya, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Taya Graham:     And I want to thank friend of the show Noli Dee for her support. Thanks Noly Dee. And a very special thanks to our Patreons and patrons and donors. We appreciate you. And I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate for you.

Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at and share your evidence of police brutality. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram, or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook, and please like and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and that I appreciate them. And of course, there’s a Patreon link below in the comments. So if you want to help out, anything is appreciated. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

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Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns. Follow her on Twitter.

Host & Producer
Stephen Janis is an award winning investigative reporter turned documentary filmmaker. His first feature film, The Friendliest Town was distributed by Gravitas Ventures and won an award of distinction from The Impact Doc Film Festival, and a humanitarian award from The Indie Film Fest. He is the co-host and creator of The Police Accountability Report on The Real News Network, which has received more than 10,000,000 views on YouTube. His work as a reporter has been featured on a variety of national shows including the Netflix reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, Dead of Night on Investigation Discovery Channel, Relentless on NBC, and Sins of the City on TV One.

He has co-authored several books on policing, corruption, and the root causes of violence including Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore and You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths about Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. He is also the co-host of the true crime podcast Land of the Unsolved. Prior to joining The Real News, Janis won three Capital Emmys for investigative series working as an investigative producer for WBFF. Follow him on Twitter.