Taya Graham: Hello. My name is Taya Graham ,and welcome to 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 individuals. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible. And today we’re going to achieve this goal by focusing on how the investigative work of cop watchers has been ignored and even blocked by the purveyors of copaganda, and what this disturbing pattern says about the efforts of citizen journalists to hold police accountable. And I’m very pleased to say we speak with Laura Shark, Tom Zebra, and Dale Lackluster to illustrate this point.
But before I get started, I want those watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at PAR@therealnews.com, and we might be able to investigate for you. And, of course, you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And please like, share, and comment on our videos. It really does help us. And we now have a Patreon account called Police Accountability Reports. So if you have a few dollars to spare, it would really help us keep doing these investigations for you–investigations the mainstream media simply won’t do. So please check for the link pinned in the comments below. Okay, now we’ve got all that out of the way.
Now, we continue to highlight on this show the work of cop watchers and auditors, citizen journalists who go out day after day to attempt to hold police and the government accountable. It’s a phenomenon that has been growing consistently over the past decade, and continues to uncover police misconduct and government malfeasance, all based upon the use of cell phone cameras and YouTube channels and, of course, of participation of viewers like you.
That’s why when we received the call from a popular cop watcher named Laura Shark, we immediately jumped on the story. Turns out that some very important work she had done was at the risk of being appropriated by the mainstream media without acknowledging her role in obtaining it. And it’s how this happened and the implications of this misuse we will unpack today. And she’s not the only cop watcher who suffered at the hands of mainstream media. We will also be talking to Dale Lackluster, a cop watcher and respected auditor whose report on this public body camera footage was subject to a copyright strike on YouTube. That’s right, a video created by our tax dollars was claimed by corporate media as their property in an effort to suppress free and fair citizen reporting. But first, let me start with this story of what happened to Laura Shark.
Shark, along with her reporting partner Tom Zebra, has been a tireless cop watcher for years. Her work in the Los Angeles area documenting police malfeasance has been unflinching. In fact, her reporting has been so effective that she was brought into questioning by internal affairs investigators over this brutal beating that she caught on camera. The victim was driving home from work when he was stopped by the police. Soon, he was dragged out of his car and then this, a brutal beatdown that Laura captured on camera. Let’s watch the footage. And just a warning to viewers, what you’re about to see is very disturbing.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Interviewer: Okay, and is there anything else?
Laura Shark: Well, what else would you like to know?
Interviewer: I guess I just wanted a little more detail about whether he had a weapon or anything, or what were the circumstances that led to that brutality?
Laura Shark: I just know that at this time it said it was a traffic detention for a vehicle [inaudible]. The situation escalated into one where he became combative with deputies and deputies had to subdue him.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
Taya Graham: Now, for months, despite her efforts to find out the fate of the victim and even his name, Laura was stonewalled by the police. Meanwhile, as we said before, the department eventually dragged her in for questioning as part of their internal affairs investigation into allegations of police brutality. But what happened next shows not just the importance of cop watchers like Laura, but what an uphill battle they face combating the power of the corporate media–a struggle best exemplified by how the media elites used her work as fodder for their product without acknowledging her role in exposing questionable actions by the police.
That’s because when the lawyer for the man is seen in this video asks Laura to turn over her footage as evidence, she was happy to oblige, but that favor turned out to have unforeseen consequences. That’s because one day Laura was scrolling through YouTube when she saw this: her video being used without attribution by MSNBC, a major network news channel and a billion-dollar corporation.
Now, it’s important to note why this lack of acknowledgement by corporate behemoths who make billions on news operations is indicative of a larger problem. It’s not just a matter of hurting her feelings or simply making an honest mistake. And for more on what’s really going on here, and before I speak to Laura, I’m joined by my reporting partner, Stephen Janis. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.
Stephen Janis: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: Stephen, you’ve worked for some pretty large corporate media outlets, but you also had your own website. What did you learn that’s applicable to Laura’s experience?
Stephen Janis: Well, in the media ecosystem, capitalism is applicable. If I use someone’s story, I would get sued or they would threaten me, but they were free to use any content that I made and I had no recourse. And an interesting thought about this is that, if there’s a documentary filmmaker, which we are, if we want to use a clip from 20 years ago from a TV station, they’ll charge us $2,500, $3,000 for 30 seconds. If they wanted to take stories off my website or use stuff that I did, no problem, you have no recourse. So it’s a really unfair system, but very similar to how capitalism works.
Taya Graham: What do you think would have happened, say had the shoe been on the other foot, and Laura had taken their footage and not giving them credit?
Stephen Janis: I think quite clearly that if, in the case of Laura, if she used video from a television station or a network, they would have not just copyright strike it, but probably would have sued her or had a corporate lawyer call her, which is what they do. So I think basically the reciprocal–sort of, I can use yours, you can use mine–does not exist. And I think the respect that auditors deserve as journalists is not there, and that’s something that has to change.
Taya Graham: Now, I’m going to go back to Stephen a little bit later in the show, but first I want to talk to Laura herself and have her tell us how she feels about what happened to her reporting and how she was treated, and what it means for citizen journalists like herself. Laura, thank you so much for joining me.
Laura Shark: Hi, it’s great to be back.
Taya Graham: So, Laura, first, just talk about the brutal beatdown that you captured on camera, what happened, and what you documented.
Laura Shark: What happened–it’s funny, I know I’m hesitating because for a year he was a nameless man. Basically he was, oh, I remember the guy that was beat by… He was nameless, and it was surreal, it was bittersweet when finally that was found by the lawyer, that she found the video, finally. But what had happened is Chris Bailey was on his way home from work–he works for a contractor, the post office, okay, so for mailing–he was on his way home. And apparently he, according to the sheriff, straddling the lane, which I don’t… Straddling the lane is either BS or it’s like you’re making a… Getting in the next lane without it–and whatever, anyway, it’s not anything that ever would deserve what happened to him basically.
So they approached his window, they asked for his license. Like any other man he has it in his wallet, I would assume in his pocket. When he went to get it, they’re like, “Whoa, we don’t know if you have a weapon here, get out of the car.” And so he stepped out of the car, he completely was… Everything they were asking of him, he was doing. He was tired, he wanted to go home. He gets out of the car. And, this is basically my assumption, is that when they went to put handcuffs on him, it startled him and their report it says… What did it say? His elbow… What did it say?
Tom Zebra: His elbow moved backwards.
Laura Shark: His elbow moved backwards, is in the official report. So I can only assume that he gets out and they immediately handcuff him and it startled him. That’s just me assuming. But anyway, at that point, instantly the deputies attacked him, the two–which was Walker and Groves, Deputy Walker and Deputy Groves. They called for backup. That’s probably around the point that we heard it over the scanner, never mind me seeing–we were actually covering LAPD, but then I see a Sheriff’s vehicle just hightail it down… And so we basically followed and we were listening to the scanner.
So at that point, I believe, four more deputies arrived for backup, and several others. But the lawsuit that has now been filed is on six deputies that… In the documents it says that one of them held him in a chokehold while the other ones beat him. He had so much facial… Was it called his orbital…? He has orbital fractures, his eye had literally popped out of the socket momentarily from the pressure of the beatings. They knocked out his teeth, they apparently pulled down his pants and lifted his shirt, tased him in his abdomen and groin area. These are all very extreme. And how do you even explain that these are necessary actions to subdue?
Oh, he’s had already three facial reconstruction surgeries, he is basically almost legally blind in his left eye, he will forever be… He is affected for the rest of his life from this incident. There’s just no… Not that you could forget it, but he would never be able to, because he has a physical… He’s only got, like, 60% sight in the eye, he wears a patch to this day. This is a year later. He’s got another surgery already scheduled. This man has been maimed, basically. It’s horrific.
Tom Zebra: Every night of the week we see and record these guys. The only thing unique about this case is that hopefully there’s going to be consequences. But we’re not kidding when we say every night of the week we record these guys conducting illegal searches, making unlawful stops. And like Laura just mentioned, they’re being promoted, they’re being rewarded, they’re not being disciplined.
Taya Graham: Now, recently you were saying your video was used by some pretty big mainstream media outlets. Can you talk about who used it and how this happened?
Laura Shark: I was… When we met, when the lawyer had contacted us and we went and met with her and I turned over all completely all the raw files that had to do with this incident, and I signed over the waiver. So she had every right to do anything she wanted with it. So she is the one, when she did the press release, she had given over a video, I would assume, or something, for the news agencies. Somebody contacted me on Instagram or something, saying, “Your video’s all over the news.”
And I was like… And I already knew, mind you, the lawyer did call a month ago to give me a heads up that they’re moving forward with the thing. So I had it in my mind that something was going to happen soon, and at least… Or whatever. I don’t know if I necessarily knew that my video would be shown, but then I look and it was, it was exciting to see things to come to fruition. It’s a bittersweet… It honestly never should have happened, obviously. This never, ever, I would never wish this upon my worst enemy. But I feel like, thank God that she had found me. The agents… Most of the articles and the news called me a bystander with cell phone video, right. So I don’t know if that’s necessarily the lawyer’s fault. She said she called me an angel or something. I think they just put that into their own words. In my mind, I felt like it was a little belittling to claim that it was a cell phone video because it’s like, oh, cell phone videos, somebody just…
We were discussing this, Daniel and I, I don’t know why they wouldn’t have… If it was just a common citizen or just somebody walking down the street, they would have never been able to record that the way that Daniel and I have the ability to get into these scenes or these incidents. To be perfectly honest, I just don’t think that anybody could have done what we did, just to be a common bystander. And I just feel when I was, no, no, no, no, no, it was on my camera, we were there very specifically because they were there, and that they do what they did.
And then all these news, they never identify deputies, they never name them. And for whatever it’s worth, it’s like–in any incident that you ever see, you never see… Only recently, Vanessa Brian was able to release five deputy names in her lawsuit, but that seemed like a struggle for her. And to be able to have that ability… And she’s known the names. We were told by the lawyer, well, they gave us these pictures of the deputies, we were given a list of the deputy names, but they didn’t connect any names to any faces. So they just did the minimal amount of turnover for them. So I was like, that’s Kano, that’s [inaudible name]. There’s only two deputies it came down to, which is the first two that actually pulled him over, Walker and Groves, that I’m not sure which one is which, because we weren’t familiar with those deputies.
Taya Graham: Have you contacted any of these organizations for credit? And why do you think they don’t want to acknowledge your work?
Tom Zebra: The story is… This information is finally available. It’s years and years later. These things have been ongoing, finally the story is coming out, and they’re not going to even say the names of the deputies. So the people involved are still on the street for us to record doing this every night, but they’re not even… The story should be related to the people involved. If it was me or Laura committing the crime, the story would have our names, and we would be publicly humiliated or shamed for our actions.
It’s not enough to just mention the sheriff department that has 10,000 deputies. The six guys involved need to be named, because that would hopefully discourage them from continuing to do this night after night after night. But the mainstream media is still not going to publish their names. It’s up to us to publish their names. And we don’t have the audience to get that information out there. So what happens is we end up facing retaliation on the street for trying to expose them. Mainstream media protects the police and the police protects the mainstream media. And yeah, that’s what I think.
Taya Graham: But Laura is not alone in her battle against mainstream media. In fact, another popular cop watcher found himself on the wrong end of corporate journalism when he had to take down a video because a local television station claimed that they owned the copyright to dashcam footage. That’s right, this footage you see here was claimed by a local television station who filed a copyright strike against this popular channel run by Dale Lackluster. The strike was perplexing, given that the video in question was created with taxpayer dollars by supposedly public servants. The video was obtained by Lackluster through a public records request. And for more on what happened, I’m joined by Dale Lackluster himself. Dale, thank you so much for joining me.
Dale Lackluster: Thank you for having me.
Taya Graham: So, first, just give us a sense of why you started this channel. What prompted you to decide to hold police accountable?
Dale Lackluster: Well, for a number of years, I was watching a lot of the First Amendment auditing community. And I have a background in public service. I was a combat medic for the infantry, and after that I became a dual function firefighter-paramedic for Los Angeles City Fire Department. So I had a lot of experience working with the LAPD. And I was kind of aligned with them. I guess most people would commonly refer to that as a bootlicker. And so, for a long time, I was of that mindset. And then I got just kind of interested in these various experiences I was seeing in the First Amendment auditing community. And for a number of years I was paying attention to it and getting more and more sucked into it.
And one day I had my own experience. And I had actually called the cops to help my neighbor, as he had told a bunch of our friends in a friend group that he was going to commit suicide. And so that interaction went real negative, for me. And luckily I wasn’t arrested or anything, but it just showed me, you see it happen on the screen so much, but when it finally happens to you is the moment that you realize this can happen to anybody. No matter who you are, what your background is, how much time of your… How many years of your life you’ve devoted to public service, they can still just as easily turn on you. So I figured I had to do something.
Taya Graham: So what did the police do to you that changed your mind?
Dale Lackluster: Well, basically, I was recording from my front doorstep. And I had one foot in my home and one foot out. And I’d been recording them for about a half an hour, because I was very worried about my neighbor. He was actually a good friend of mine, I’d helped him get a job. And so… It was about 30 minutes that I was standing out there recording them. And they finally geared up, and they had their vests, helmets, riot shields, and all that, and they were going to kick the door in. And it was at that moment where one of the officers turned to me and he said, “Go inside.” And I said, no, I’m over a hundred feet away, the houses were at an angle, so I couldn’t even see the front door. And he’s telling me, “You’re going to get arrested if you don’t go inside.”
And so I immediately saw that as a violation of my civil rights, my right to record, not to mention I was on my own personal property. So I mean, that was it, it was real simple. Luckily I wasn’t arrested, I wasn’t summoned. A supervisor was called to the scene. There was an internal investigation. They never said what happened to the guy, or anything. But that little tiny experience for me was enough to say, you know, go do something.
Taya Graham: What have you learned about policing through your investigations?
Dale Lackluster: I guess quite a bit. The channel started off with me actually actively looking for things to report on. And then it slowly turned into something where I’m getting between 50 and 100 emails a day from people who are saying, “This happened to me. Can you check it out?” “Will this fit on your channel?” And realistically, I could probably put up a dozen videos a day, if I had the time to do that. And it takes me six to eight hours per video that I put out to research and produce and edit and publish. I think what that’s taught me is how big of a problem it is.
And that’s just me. I know that for a YouTube channel I have a decent amount of subscribers, but the United States doesn’t know about me. Like one tenth of a percent of the population has heard about me. And I’ve got that many people looking to share their experience with me and trying to get it out to the public. And most of them are egregious violations. And a lot of them are cover-ups or have some sort of sense of cover-ups. And not only that, most of the time the experiences or the interactions and encounters are things that we see over and over and over again. Like, the departments aren’t learning, the cops aren’t learning, and they just keep happening and growing. And maybe that’s just a result of my space as a creator in this field, but to me it looks like it’s an ever-expanding and growing problem.
Taya Graham: So do you think the auditing community gets the respect it deserves? Do you think people take it seriously?
Dale Lackluster: That’s a really good question. I think it gets the respect that it deserves from the people who know they need it. 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 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. But as far as just in general, no, I think the back the blue crowd hates the auditing community, and the auditors love it.
Taya Graham: Now, you had a mainstream media outlet exercise a copyright strike against you for posting dashcam footage. Can you talk about what happened?
Dale Lackluster: Yeah. I don’t know fully what happened as far as why the copyright strike happened. All of the footage that I used in the video was public domain. It was from the Arkansas State Police. I attempted a FOIA request. They denied me, because I’m not an Arkansas resident. I reached out to my viewers. My viewers responded. And one of them actually obtained the bodycam, or the dashcam footage, for me, sent it to me. And I consulted with my lawyers, made sure that’s all legal, and yes, we got the green light. And so once I got that dashcam footage, I made that video. It went crazy viral. And they had made a story about it, too, because it happened in their little local jurisdiction for their local news channel.
And I called the news desk and said, Hey, you guys just copyright striked my channel and took down my video, but it’s public domain and that video was actually featured on The Young Turks, DL Hughley re-posted it, and a bunch of other people. But for some reason, the news channel either thought it was theirs or they had a computer system that just automatically identifies videos that could be theirs and just strikes it automatically without any human review, or they did it maliciously to try to stop my video from getting so many views so that their video could get more views. I don’t know, but I’ve consulted with counsel and we are taking it to court.
Taya Graham: So just understand, how can body or dashcam footage, which is created basically by public tax dollars, belong to anyone? How is that not public property?
Dale Lackluster: It is public property, there’s no doubt about that, it’s never owned by anyone. So either they have a guy in their copyright room that doesn’t understand Section 207 of the Copyright Act and what public domain is, or they did it maliciously, or it was just really an accident. But either way, the video is back up, the strike’s been taken down.
Taya Graham: Can you talk about a video that is of particular importance to you? A video that you feel encapsulates what you do.
Dale Lackluster: I guess there’s quite a few. I very rarely have a video that gets some sort of . And it’s something that I get a lot of complaints about, actually, on my channels, that they never see the resolutions from these interactions. And that’s because, simply, litigation takes years. Eric Brandt took seven years to litigate one of his cases. And internal affairs and all that stuff take so much time. And settlements sometimes get slapped with gag orders. So my personal favorite ones are… I guess I don’t have a specific one. But there have been quite a few within the past five or six months where we have an immediate reaction from the local police department, where they either shut down their Facebook page, they terminate the officer, some type of suspension. We’ve had a couple that have resulted in settlements within just a couple months after the incident, so those ones would be my favorite, I guess.
Taya Graham: Now, I just want to toss back to Stephen, because I know he’s reached out to the television station in question, and I want to hear if he’s heard back. Stephen, thanks for joining me again, and tell me, what have you heard from the station about their copyright strike?
Stephen Janis: Well, I sent them an email with a very specific question: How did you claim a copyright on publicly created documents, information, et cetera? And I have yet to hear back, but I’m going to keep pressing them, because I think this is a fundamental question, and is very important to the auditing community and people like us, who are independent, nonprofit-funded journalism. They’re going to answer the question. They haven’t answered yet, but they will.
Taya Graham: Now, I know that the battle between the cop watching community and the mainstream media can seem like inside baseball, I’m even aware of the fact that the plight of a cop watcher with a YouTube channel can seem like a diversion from the true focus of the show, which is watching cops and holding them accountable. But please allow me to push back on that idea a little bit, not just to be ornery, but to make a case for what the alternative media really represents and why it is critical to the health of our fledgling democracy.
To do so, I’m going to reference a book called Seeing. It’s a fictional novel by an esteemed Spanish writer, José Saramago. And the book tells the tale of a city where very odd and inexplicable thing happens. During an election, most of the residents of the capital city go to the polls, and almost all of them cast blank votes. This is despite actually dropping a ballot in the ballot box. Most of them did not check off a specific candidate.
The appearance of the so-called blankers creates confrontation, confusion, and even threats of violence from the political elites. In fact, the ruling class is so confused the entire government abandons the city completely, expecting the community to erupt into chaos. But instead, the opposite occurs, promoting the country’s leadership to resort to even more extreme measures.
Now, I don’t want to give away the whole story, but the reason why I bring up this book is because I think it makes a point about what the mainstream media ignores, or, in some cases, even tries to thwart, with cop watchers. Because I think the people who seek alternative media sources like Laura Shark and Lackluster are the contemporary equivalent to blankers: people who refuse to buy into the status quo and seek truth where it can exist without fear or favor.
And that’s also why mainstream media hits back: because of fear. Fear that people who choose to assemble and obtain knowledge outside of the purview of the status quo represent a threat to it. That those who don’t turn to the greed infused media for the truth are skeptical of the irrational narratives it espouses.
As we discussed last week, the nation’s war on drugs was an utter disaster that did nothing–and I mean nothing–to reduce addiction or the suffering associated with drug use. Just consider the fact that this year the DEA, our huge drug enforcement administration, is spending billions and making thousands of drug possession arrests, but overdose deaths rose to their highest level ever: 90,000 people dead. Now, compare that to the breathless coverage from the mainstream media about the heroic efforts of drug warriors, about the scourge of drug dealing in our dangerous cities, about all the wonderful successes that have led to the largest experiment in mass incarceration in the history of human civilization.
And so, like the people in the book Seeing, if we collectively decide that this narrative is simply not worth paying attention to, the corporate media fights back with their rational acts, like using a video without attribution, or copyright striking body camera footage. This is how they fight back when we ignore their offerings and do our own reporting or watch auditors like Laura Shark or Tom Zebra and Lackluster, and this is what happens when we choose to ignore their irrational narratives, seeking to justify that the possession of mind-altering substances should lead to arrest, loss of freedom, and even sometimes loss of our lives.
We simply become blankers, and they just can’t stand it, so they try to stop it. Maybe, just maybe, the people we spoke to today are a threat to the insanity that our corporate media counterparts have embraced for years. Maybe journalism for and by the people is the only thing that will save us from the idea that it’s okay for people to get sick and go bankrupt, or for cops to take property without charging people, or making an arrest.
Maybe that’s why large corporations either appropriate or block the work of these auditors. But that’s also why we will keep reporting on what they do, and holding the people that want to stop them accountable. I want to thank Laura Shark, Tom Zebra, and Dale Lackluster for their important work and for taking the time to sit down with us and discuss it. Thank you all so much. And, of course, I have to thank intrepid journalist Stephen Janis for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. And, of course, I would be remiss if I did not thank friend of the show Noli Dee for her support. Thanks, Noli Dee.
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. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at PAR@therealnews.com and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram, or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. Of course, you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook, and please like and comment. I do read your comments and appreciate them, and I try to answer your questions whenever I can. And if you want to help us continue, please consider donating to our Patreon, Police Accountability Reports.
My name is Taya Graham, and I’m your host to the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.
Citizen journalists continue to play a critical role in holding police accountable, which is why they face increasing pushback from the underlying system that bolsters bad cops. PAR speaks to cop watchers Laura Shark and Lackluster about the challenges they face when reporting on police, and how auditing law enforcement has become an increasingly dicey occupation.