The arrest of a Texas cop watcher for filming in public is the most recent chilling example of how law enforcement across the country is attempting to roll back auditors’ First Amendment rights. Jack Miller, also known as Texas Sheepdog, was filming outside the Olmos Park, Texas, City Hall when police arrested and charged him with multiple crimes. The ensuing five-day trial and jury verdict reveal that citizens’ ability to film in public is facing new obstacles and concerted pushback from the government.
Pre-Production/Studio: Stephen Janis
Post-Production: Adam Coley
Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As we 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 will achieve that goal by reporting on the legal consequences of this fraught encounter between police and a cop watcher named Texas Sheepdog. An arrest that led to a courtroom battle that concluded with a shocking outcome. Details which we will share with you along with the response from the Texas Sheepdog himself.
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 email@example.com. And please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and that I appreciate them. And of course, if you can, reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And there is a Patreon donate link pinned in the comments below, so if you feel inspired, we do have some extras there for our PAR family. All right. We’ve gotten that out of the way.
Now, one of the most important stories we have covered on this show is the evolution and growth of a phenomenon known as cop watching. Citizen journalists who use cell phones and cameras and YouTube channels to monitor the police and report back to us on what they uncover. One of the reasons we often focus on this growing movement is that it represents to us a very distinct and important tradition that speaks to the very essence of our struggle to build a better democracy. That’s because cop watching is firmly rooted in the tradition of grassroots organizing that is vital to holding power accountable.
Meaning cop watching embodies all the best aspects of a group of people dedicated to the notion that government exists to serve, not to rule. Which is why the story of cop watcher Texas Sheepdog’s fight for his right to record cops and how the legal system has worked against him is not just worth recounting, but it’s a cautionary tale about how the process of holding the government accountable is not just annoying, but constant.
The story begins in Olmos, Texas, in February of 2020. Texas Sheepdog was actually filming what he calls a public service announcement. He wanted to urge people who followed his channel not to make violent threats against police. The idea was to stem some of the outrage against the department after he had posted several videos of police violating his rights and the rights of other activists. But what started as a clear exercise of his First Amendment rights turned into something else entirely when police confronted him. Let’s watch.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Speaker 1: Check across the street. Check across the street.
Jack Miller: Get away from me, get away from me. [inaudible].
Speaker 2: Back up.
Speaker 3: Hey, we checked the parking lot and it’s clear.
Jack Miller: [inaudible]. Motherfucker. I’m not resisting, you don’t have to twist my arm like that. You don’t have to twist my arm like that. That’s [inaudible].
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: So even though Texas Sheepdog at the time was not actually filming police, the situation escalated. Though he admits he was carrying a toy gun at the time – Now, this is an open carry state – Police take him to the ground in an aggressive arrest. Let’s watch.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Speaker 3: – Parking lot and it’s clear.
Jack Miller: Motherfucker. I’m not resisting, you don’t have to twist my arm like that. You don’t have to twist my arm like that [inaudible]. That’s [inaudible].
Speaker 3: [indistinct talking] What’s he under arrest for?
Jack Miller: I’m not under [inaudible] nothing. [inaudible]. [indistinct shouting]
Speaker 1: Back up to the other bush over there.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: So, Texas Sheepdog, also known as Jack Miller, was arrested and charged with four separate crimes including resisting arrest, blocking a passageway, disorderly conduct, assault on a police officer, and carrying a deadly weapon in a manner calculated to cause alarm. These are questionable charges that seem to belie what took place during the arrest. Watch for yourself.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Speaker 1: Back up to the other bush over there.
Speaker 2: Back them up.
Speaker 1: Back up to the other bush.
Speaker 2: I’m moving. I’m working. Back up over here.
Jack Miller: [inaudible shouting]
Speaker 1: Back up to the other bush.
Speaker 3: How far? How far [inaudible]?
Speaker 1: Blue suburban behind you?
Speaker 5: You said the blue?
Speaker 3: I’m not going behind it.
Speaker 1: Back up. You’re going to go behind it.
Speaker 3: [inaudible]. Back up. County sheriff department.
Speaker 1: Back up. Back up.
Speaker 3: Joanna. Joanna.
Jack Miller: He broke my fucking shoulder.
Speaker 1: Back up.
Jack Miller: I can’t feel my fucking shoulder.
Speaker 6: I almost [inaudible].
Jack Miller: I have an MRI in two days for my fucking shoulder.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Well, what makes this case even more important is how it represents a broader assault on cop watchers in general. And now, a recent Supreme Court ruling may affect the ability of auditors to fight back through the courts. So shortly, we’ll talk to Jack himself about the charges that were just the beginning of his long and painful ordeal. But first, I’m joined by my reporting partner Stephen Janis to talk about how the Supreme Court decision may be affecting what’s going on in this small Texas community
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: So first, Texas prosecuted a long and drawn out case for minor charges. Can you give me some sense of what happened?
Stephen Janis: Well, these people in Texas must have a lot more time on their hands than they do in a city like, let’s say Baltimore, where we have murder trials. This is over minor, minor, minor charges, drags out for four or five days. Obviously, when this happens, prosecutors have an ax to grind. And I think that’s what this is about, teaching a lesson to Texas Sheepdog, and not really adjudicating for justice.
Taya Graham: Now the Supreme Court has recently made a critical ruling that might be prompting towns to prosecute these cases more vigorously. Could you talk a little about that?
Stephen Janis: Well, it’s really interesting. On the face of it, or the surface, this ruling seems like it would be beneficial. It basically says that you can sue under 1983, or sue under federal civil rights violation if your charges are just dropped. It used to be that you would need some sort of active sort of innocence, like you were found innocent by a jury or a judge ruled you’re innocent. But what I think it’s going to do is in cases like these, instead of dropping charges that really are stupid, towns might move forward because they’re worried that if the charges are dropped, there’ll be a 1983 case against them. And I think it’s going to give people less incentive to drop charges. It might not happen, but it could be.
Taya Graham: What do you think the long term consequences will be of this ruling? What do you think the Supreme Court is actually doing here?
Stephen Janis: Well, I think the Supreme Court is kind of skirting the issue of qualified immunity, which they talked about in the ruling but did not rule on. And while I think there are a lot of benefits to being able to say, hey, you can go forward to 1983 when charges are dropped. As I said before, a lot of the cases that we report on eventually, when there’s enough publicity, prosecutors in the town realize, hey, we got to drop these charges. Now they’re going to be like, no, we can’t drop these charges because we’re inviting a 1983 case. And I think it’s going to have a perverse incentive for cities, and maybe make things worse for cop watchers.
Taya Graham: And now for more on his struggles in court, the outcome of his trial, and what he believes it means for the future of cop watching, I’m joined by Jack, also known as the Texas Sheepdog. Texas Sheepdog, thank you for joining me.
Jack Miller: Thank you for having me.
Taya Graham: So tell us what we’re seeing in this video.
Jack Miller: So what you’re seeing here is the video of when I was arrested and what I was having trial for this week. The charge was resisting arrest. And out of this incident, there were four charges that were filed against me: blocking a passageway, carrying a rifle in a manner calculated to cause alarm, resisting arrest, and assault on a peace officer. So what you’re seeing here is as I’m crossing the street to go back to my truck, the police chief Rene Valenciano approaches me and begins to tell me to go across the street.
And I was under no obligation to do so, so I continued moving towards the crosswalk, the only crosswalk that they had. And he reaches out to grab me. And I didn’t know why he was grabbing me, I wasn’t under arrest or being detained. And then after he grabs me, he tells me he’s detaining me. You’ll see me take my right hand and put it behind my back when I hear the words “detain.” I didn’t agree with why he would be detaining me, but nevertheless, I don’t resist the police, so you see me put my right hand behind my back.
As I do that, you see him start to wrench my left wrist. And what he testified was a pain compliance technique. He testified that he began applying the pain compliance technique because I was resisting arrest at that point. You see, the pain was so immense that I had no choice but to move in the direction he was pushing me, which was towards the ground. I went down to the ground, and when I landed on the ground, I just had this immense pain. I had an injury that I was under doctor’s care for. I had an MRI scheduled in two days in preparation for surgery.
And the position that my arm was in caused that nerve to pinch. And I lost feeling in my arm, but it felt like the equivalent of what I would think was a shotgun blast in my shoulder. But you see me begin to scream that my shoulder is hurting. You’ll see them begin to try to put handcuffs on me. And it’s known, I cannot put my wrists together behind my back. If I were to try to put my wrists together, I can’t do it on my own. I’m just too big shouldered, too fat, if you will, I’ll admit it.
So if an officer were to try to put my wrists together to put handcuffs on, you have to push them together. This caused even more pain. I normally get arrested with two handcuffs. It’s well known in the law enforcement community here that I need two handcuffs. And they ended up putting two handcuffs on.
Taya Graham: Why were you in Olmos Park?
Jack Miller: So myself and a couple of other people who were acting as my film crew that day, we went to Olmos Park for one reason, and that was to do some B roll footage. We had been out there for a half hour and I had been talking to the camera with a movie prop. The rifle was a movie prop, it was an Airsoft rifle. Not a toy, but not a firearm, either. And I use that because it’s just a lot easier to carry, it’s a lot lighter, and there’s really no necessity to have a real rifle. Although it would be legal, it’s just not necessary. Plus it’s safer. Because a lot of times we handle the movie props a lot, so we don’t want to be handling a real rifle that could go off. It’s for safety reasons.
And so I had talked to the camera, and we were doing a video. The topic of the video was to address people who were making threats against Olmos Park because of things that they have seen Olmos Park do in the past. And one of our hearings in federal court on one of our other lawsuits, we heard voicemails played of people making some very specific threats to harm the police and the city staff. So our plan was to do this video letting them know that we don’t want that to happen, find something else to do to vent your anger, violence is not the answer.
Taya Graham: What were you charged with?
Jack Miller: Stemming out of the 2020 incident, which you just saw the video of, I received four charges. One charge was for blocking a passageway, the other charge, charge number two – And in no particular order – Was disorderly conduct, carrying a firearm in a manner calculated to cause alarm. The third charge was resisting arrest. And the fourth charge was felony assault on a police officer.
Taya Graham: You asked for a jury trial. Were you convicted? And what is your sentence?
Jack Miller: We did ask for a jury trial, and the trial lasted four days. We picked a jury on Monday. And at 8:30 PM on Friday, I was found guilty by the jury. I was assessed two years probation, one year confinement in the county jail, suspended assuming that I complete probation satisfactorily. I was ordered to do 80 hours of community service. I have to take an anger management class. I have to take a class on morals. I was assessed a $1,000 fine, around $400 in court costs.
In addition to all of that, I am restricted from leaving Bear County, the county that I’m in, without permission in advance. I cannot possess any firearms, except that I can continue to possess the ones that I currently own. But I can only use them for self-defense, so I can’t go out to the range and target practice or walk around with one, but I can still have them for self-defense. Also, I’m not allowed to have any contact whatsoever, even if it’s in the course of let’s say a public information request or a phone call asking a question in my journalistic capacity, with any employees of Olmos Park.
I’m not allowed to go within 500 feet of the city limits of Olmos Park. I can’t enter the city for any reason whatsoever. If I do, that would be a violation of my probation, and I’m going to go into jail until they tell me I can get out. I’m not allowed to drink alcohol, use illegal drugs, which isn’t a problem because I don’t do drugs anyway. I did drink a little bit every now and then, but not a lot, so that’s not really an issue either. What I found to be the most funniest thing is that I have to follow all of the rules of probation, and they have a lot of rules: no cussing, no disrespect, so on and so forth. A lot of moral things, which I don’t have a problem following. I don’t run around cussing people out all the time. And most of the time I don’t cuss.
Taya Graham: So you’re not permitted within 500 yards of city limits. How will this impact you and your work?
Jack Miller: Well, make no mistake about it, that’s what this has all been about. Since the very first time that the police have arrested a person who watches the cops, not just here, but all over the United States, it’s been about stopping you from doing that. They don’t like it, so they’re going to stop you. And I’ve always said this over and over again, this is not about justice, this is about the harm.
Whenever they make an arrest of someone, and we see it and we say wait a minute, the person didn’t commit a crime, it’s all about the harm that they can cause you from the time they arrest you to what is seemingly the inevitable dismissal. Because I think this might be one of the first times where an auditor or a person that films the cops such as myself has been found guilty by a jury for resisting arrest, which we know is a contempt of cop charge.
So that’s exactly what it’s about, Taya, it’s about shutting me down. Why restrict me to Bear County other than to limit my ability to travel outside of Bear County to do what I do? Why impose those kinds of restrictions? Is it because I have to be taught to follow the rules? Taya, I’ve been on restrictions for the last three years. I’ve been perpetually under charges. I’ve been on travel restrictions, alcohol restrictions, gun restrictions, travel restrictions. I’ve had bond conditions, and I’ve never violated them one time.
I haven’t been able to travel outside of the State of Texas for the last three years. I have traveled and I’ve sought permission. I haven’t been able to drink alcohol for the past three years because it was a bond condition. Now I know people have seen me drink alcohol online, but I can assure you it’s not alcohol. So look, why restrict me? Well, I guess they think that it’s going to interfere with my journalism and the spotlight that I shine on police. And it does, it does a lot, but I’m still going to be out there.
Taya Graham: Now I want to drill down on a question that this show might have raised about the process of cop watching. I mean, with all the police brutality we witness across the country, it’s reasonable to ask why we continue to cover stories about people who seem to intentionally entangle themselves with police. In other words, what’s the point of digging deeper into the travails of a person who’s at least in part responsible for putting themselves at odds with the police in the first place? It’s a good question. Now let me try to answer.
I want to start by telling a story about a recent case of police overreach in Aurora, Colorado. But it’s not your typical tale of police misconduct. No, this case of law enforcement malfeasance has a bit of a twist, but thus is relevant to the theme of our show today. It starts with a phone call made to child protective services by an anonymous tipster. The caller had reached out to the agency that is ostensibly designed to protect children with a shocking allegation. The person had witnessed a Colorado councilwoman named Danielle Jurinsky inappropriately touching her two-year-old son.
The tip was considered so credible that authorities in Aurora launched a two-week investigation into the councilwoman, who described the ordeal as the worst two weeks of her life. Oddly, or perhaps predictably, investigators found no evidence of any abuse. In fact, the whole allegation was so provably false, CPS turned their attention to another mystery: Who actually made the call in the first place? And that is where this tale of the mysterious complaint turns into a revealing lesson about the culture of policing in this country.
That’s because investigators soon discovered that the tip actually came from an employee of the agency. But not just any employee. In fact, the person who made the shocking allegations was actually the partner of the Aurora police chief Vanessa Wilson. Her name is Robin Niceta. And she was, and I emphasize, she was a caseworker for the Arapahoe County Child Protective Services. According to an affidavit sworn out for her arrest, Niceta made the fake accusation just one day, let me repeat, one day after the councilwoman had been critical of the police chief on a local radio station.
Seriously. Shortly after an elected official makes harsh comments about police chief, her partner, a government employee, dials up child protective services and accuses that same official of engaging in child abuse, of molesting her two-year old son. I mean, investigators found that Niceta actually used *69 to hide the number. She also inquired how quickly it took to follow up on a tip once it was submitted. According to the affidavit, she even allegedly checked on the status of the case shortly afterwards on her phone, and used the search engine Bing on her county laptop to look up “Does the child abuse hotline keep phone numbers in Colorado?” Sounds like someone, allegedly, trying to cover up her tracks.
The reason I’m telling you this story is because I think it makes a salient point about why cop watching cannot and should not be dismissed. Why do we have to consider the process of filming cops even in routine situations worth covering, even if it sometimes might seem haphazard or over the top? That’s because I want you to consider for a moment the overarching imperative informing Niceta’s decision to file a false charge.
I want you to consider what was at the root of her potentially devastating decision to use the criminal justice system to retaliate against a public official who had simply criticized the police chief. The point I would argue was to crush dissent, and the tool, as we have often seen, is the criminal justice system itself. It’s pretty interesting that the partner of the police chief so quickly turned to the law to retaliate.
I mean, having witnessed how agencies like CPS can utterly destroy people’s lives, I know it’s hardly trivial when a complaint is filed. But even more disturbing is the notion that this extreme measure was taken over the expression of dissent and the exercise of one’s First Amendment rights. Put simply, it was a brazen attempt to stifle political discourse by literally using a state agency to tear a family apart.
Now, this councilwoman had the means at her disposal to investigate and to push back against these false charges, but how many of us have that kind of power to fight back? Which is why I think we have to be mindful when reporting on cop watching of what is really at stake. Cop watching may be awkward, sometimes odd, often humorous, and even disturbing at times. It might be a process that most of us, myself included, wouldn’t want to do ourselves. It’s even an idea that is often criticized for being self-serving and unconstructed. Fair enough.
I want you to consider for a moment First Amendment auditing and cop watching from a different perspective. Maybe, just maybe it’s a symptom of something deeper. Maybe it’s a recognition of a reality that we just don’t want to confront, but also can’t look away from. Maybe it’s an idea that government for and by the people is not a passive project. In other words, in order to preserve our rights, we have to be proactive. We have to let the powers that be know we’re watching. And that’s perhaps one perspective we’re thinking about when it comes to cop watching.
I mean, with all the police overreach and law enforcement abuse we have reported about on this show, how is it really unproductive to have someone actively watching cops? When you think about the consequences of the aforementioned false tip and all the other bogus arrests we have reported on, can we really sit back and assume our rights won’t be violated?
The point is that it seems to me, like many other institutions, the imperative of law enforcement is to expand its powers. I mean, why else would we have the government providing excess military gear to rural cops, or laws passed in places like Oklahoma to make it illegal to film cops? Why else would we see decision after decision where the Supreme Court makes it easier to search without a warrant or detain a person without probable cause?
I mean, as we can see in the case of the Texas Sheepdog and other cop watchers we’ve reported on, law enforcement isn’t sitting still, so why should we? I mean, even if cop watching is an awkward and sometimes imperfect or flawed process, isn’t it better to have cameras and eyes on police and have them watching us all the time? I think it is something worth thinking about. Or to put it another way, shouldn’t someone be watching the watchers? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.
I’d like to thank my guest Jack, also known as a Texas Sheepdog, for his time, and for being an open book with me in sharing his experiences. Thank you, Jack. And, of course, I want to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: And I want to thank mods of the show Noli Dee and Lacey R for their support. Thank you. And a very special thanks to our Patreons, we appreciate you. And I look forward to thanking each and every one of you personally in our next livestream. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and share your evidence of police misconduct. 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 at @tayasbaltimore on Twitter and Facebook. And please like and comment. You know I read your comments and appreciate them, even if I don’t always get a chance to answer back.
And we do have a Patreon link pinned in the comments below, so if you feel inspired to donate, please do so, because we don’t run ads or take corporate dollars. So anything you can spare is truly appreciated. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.