Holding police accountable requires defending the First Amendment right to put them on camera. This is why Philip Turner, known on YouTube as The Battousai, fought to solidify that right in Turner v. Driver, a 2017 case decided by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. However, a shocking video shows Texas police ignoring the law, detaining Turner, and confiscating his video equipment. What the officers didn’t realize is that the case law resulting from the Turner v. Driver decision not only protects citizens’ right to film the police, but was named after the very man whose rights they were violating.
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 institutions 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’ll do so by reporting on the recent arrest of a popular auditor for filming a police station. But what makes this incident so informative is that it happened after Mr. Turner, also known as the cop watcher Battousai, had won a protracted battle in court to ensure that right to take video in the first place.
But, before we get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please email it to us privately at email@example.com, and we might be able to investigate for you. And of course you can always message me directly at @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And please like, share, and comment on our videos. It really does help us, and you know I read your comments and appreciate them. And we also have a Patreon link pinned below, and we have some special goodies for our Patreon family. So, if you have a few bucks, you know what to do. Okay. Now that we’ve got that out the way.
Now, it’s pretty clear that the mainstream media has an undeniable sense of contempt for what is known as cop watchers or auditors. As you may recall, two weeks ago we reported on how the mainstream media used this great reporting by Laura Shark and Tom Zebra on a horrifying case of police brutality without attribution. And not to be outdone, a Kansas TV station put a copyright strike on LackLuster Audit’s YouTube channel for using this legally obtained dash cam footage. And recently, the New York Post ran an article on a New York City auditor who they described as an agitator simply seeking clicks for cash. That’s an ironic take from a tabloid that runs pictures of women in bikinis on a regular basis.
But the reason I bring this coverage up is not to be a media critic. No. Instead I think it’s a perfect way to introduce our topic today, and a way to show, not tell you, how our colleagues in the corporate media often miss the forest for the trees, and that the process of auditing can lead to real substantive change. And how the act of turning a camera around on the people who hold power over it is a more subversive act than perhaps it appears at first glance.
What am I talking about? Well, take the coverage of Eric Brandt. According to local Denver media, Eric is an out of control YouTube agitator who is best known for threatening judges. And yes, his threatening words were and are offensive. But as we’ve pointed out in previous shows, he’s also been instrumental in achieving real police reform and making case law that has set a precedent for how people can protest the police and how cops must be trained to respect the First Amendment rights of everyone.
Which is a perfect lead into the story we’re focusing on today. That’s because two weeks ago, the police arrested a well-known cop watcher, Philip Turner, also known as Battousai, for the heinous crime of – Wait for it – Filming a police station. The arrest occurred outside the Corrigan, Texas, police department as Battousai was taking video. But despite the fact the law clearly said what he was doing was perfectly legal, they arrested him anyway. Let’s watch.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Police Officer 1: [inaudible]… You’re around patrol vehicles.
Philip Turner: Right. But the front door’s right here. And unless you have another entrance that I could walk to to avoid being next to patrol cars, then I can do that.
Police Officer 1: It don’t work that way.
Philip Turner: It doesn’t work that way?
Police Officer 1: No.
Philip Turner: Okay. So I’ll –
Police Officer 1: Got his name and date of birth?
Police Officer 2: No, [inaudible] his name.
Police Officer 1: What’s your date of birth? You got an ID?
Philip Turner: No, I just told him who I was and what I was doing.
Police Officer 2: Your last name? [crosstalk] your full name?
Philip Turner: Turner.
Police Officer 2: Turner?
Philip Turner: Oh, am I being detained right now?
Police Officer 2: Yes, sir.
Philip Turner: Oh, I’m being detained.
Police Officer 2: Yes, sir.
Police Officer 1: You got to put this down.
Philip Turner: Okay, so they’re taking my – Okay. Let me shut it – I’ll put it down, I’ll put it down.
Police Officer 1: Turn it off.
Philip Turner: I’ll put it down.
Police Officer 1: And this, because you’re breaking city ordinance.
Philip Turner: Okay.
Police Officer 1: Take that off.
Philip Turner: Take it off? [inaudible]
Police Officer 1: I don’t want to touch it, take it off.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: But that’s not the end of the story. Because what makes this case so egregious is that Battousai’s filming of the police and the arrest that ensued has much more importance than the act itself, and it says much more about how substantive the work of auditors can be. That’s because Battousai had previously won a lawsuit against another Texas police department which clearly gave him the right to film anything having to do with the police. In fact, this dispute during which he was previously arrested for filming cops has been codified case law, ensuring that the First Amendment right of the citizenry cannot be limited by cops ignorant of the law.
Even more intriguing is the fact that the town had amended an ordinance to ensure that people could film police and law enforcement facilities in part as a result of that lawsuit. And it is a clear violation of the law by police and the contradiction it reveals shows how our Constitutional rights seem to be lost in translation, which we will be talking to Battousai about shortly. But before we talk to him, I’m joined by my reporting partner Stephen Janis who has been researching the case and reaching out to authorities. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: Now first, you reached out to the police department for comment. What did they say?
Stephen Janis: Well I haven’t heard back, it’s a really small department. I couldn’t even find a contact person there, but I did send an email to an address and tried to contact them on Facebook, and we’ll hear back. But it’s a very, very small department, very, very small town. So I don’t know if I’m going to hear anything.
Taya Graham: Also, this case law seems pretty specific in terms of ensuring police can’t arrest people for filming. What did the court rule, and what does the amended law say with regards to this type of activity?
Stephen Janis: Well, it’s very clear. You can film a police station. The law and the ruling is not ambiguous and there’s no real circumstances that can bar you from doing that. But of course, that has always really been the case. And what’s really disturbing about it is that he had to go to the extent of filing this lawsuit and going through this just to get the right to film police in a police station. And I think it’s really clear, and I think this is settled.
Taya Graham: Now, finally, you yourself have faced pushback from the police for filming public buildings. Can you tell us about it?
Stephen Janis: Yeah, almost every building I try to film in state government I, at one time or another, have had a cop come up to me and say, what are you doing? And it gets pretty disturbing because you can’t do your job, but also because most of these officers don’t know the law and they don’t know it’s okay to film a public building. This happened to me a lot especially in Baltimore City when I tried to film the Juvenile Justice Center, when I tried to film a state building, a state health center, for a health story and I was accosted by a police officer. So camera people and cop watchers are constantly having to push back on the rights even after they’re established. And I think this shows just how poorly law enforcement is trained.
Taya Graham: Now, to get more details on his arrest and to explore the ramifications of what this latest example of law enforcement overreach means, I’m joined by Battousai himself. Battousai, thank you so much for joining me.
Philip Turner: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Taya Graham: So first, I just want to ask you a little bit about your alter ego, or your YouTube name Battousai. So who is Battousai and what does he do?
Philip Turner: Long story short, I didn’t have any intentions of recording police. That was not my intention when I created my channel. The purpose of me creating my channel was because I wanted to get into video game clips and video editing, and just more like the comedy style of videos and things of that nature. And for whatever reason, I got pulled over and stopped for driving late at night. And that happened to be my first video that I uploaded to YouTube. And then as soon as I uploaded that video to YouTube, I just kind of went down a rabbit hole with other videos of other people with various encounters, and I was just kind of shocked and surprised that it’s not just me or a handful of people. This is a very common thing that’s going on.
Taya Graham: Now, you actually made case law, didn’t you? I believe the case is Turner v. Driver. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Philip Turner: Yeah, so with that one that turned out to be a little bit special. I was, before Turner v. Driver, I was constantly getting arrested and detained for just taking pictures of public buildings and public areas, which everybody’s like, well, you have that right to do that, don’t you? I mean, the average person may think so, but it’s odd how police would categorize that as suspicious behavior or suspicious activity when photography itself is not suspicious in any way, especially if you’re not doing it in a suspicious manner.
And another activist put me in touch with an attorney called Kervyn Altaffer Jr. I sat and I spoke with him for two hours. He wanted to know like, hey, before I take on any of your cases, I’ve seen your videos. I just wanted to make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. I just want to make sure that there’s no other side to this. So we sat and we talked for about two hours and he agreed to take on all my cases. I pretty much put my funding for my lawsuits and put it into this case. And we pretty much went forward.
Then the notice came in the email that said that the courts wanted to do an oral argument. Which is, what I was told, was pretty rare. And my attorney’s like I’ve been doing law for 25 years and this is the first oral argument I’ve ever done. And he said, this is going to be pretty interesting. So the oral argument’s online, and I heard it, and I was just pretty impressed with the level of detail. And the judges, they’re trying to be impartial. And then it gets to the point where the important questions get asked, like we might as well establish that you do have the right to record police, because everybody knows you do.
And then I believe we got the notice saying that it was established Feb. 17, I believe. So when we got noticed, we were pretty happy we made history. And then from then on I always get an update whenever my case law’s being used in another lawsuit or another case, so it’s pretty cool knowing that your name is being referenced in other case law.
Taya Graham: So what happened to you last weekend? I mean, you were arrested for recording in a public place, right?
Philip Turner: I was sent over a video of an individual who was standing in front of the police station door, looking like he was trying to ask a question. The lobby was closed, so he rang the doorbell to see if he could get some assistance. And then I guess a couple of minutes later, you see a patrol car come and an officer steps out and just, the encounter just goes downhill from there once the officer’s like, I don’t answer any questions, when the individual specifically said he had a question. So you can already tell that the encounter was going downhill from there.
And then as I was watching that video, I noticed, or I heard something very interesting when the officer said it was against their ordinance to record. Now that really kind of struck a chord with me, and I was like the case law was established years ago. So why are we regressing right now? What’s going on? And where can I find more information about this ordinance? So after I finished watching that video, the ordinance was 8.600. I looked online to see if I could find anything about that ordinance. I was not able to, and City Hall was closed, and I wanted to maybe go to the PD and get answers.
So, as a journalist, I went and documented the whole situation, gave people the back story. As soon as I arrived, it was pretty much like a three hour and 42 minute drive. So I was really wanting to get some answers on that, because that was very mind boggling to me. So I stood across the street and I was able to see some of the signs but I couldn’t really make out what they were saying or what the specifics of those signs were saying until I got closer. When I got closer, it became clear that there was just no recording inside the patrol car, and I was like, well, I mean, I don’t have any plans to record inside the patrol car, that’s not what I’m here to do. But I’m here to figure out what is this ordinance and why is it there and what the main reason for it is.
So lucky for me the lobby was open, went in, spoke with the young lady behind the counter. I didn’t think she was going to send anyone out. I just happened to think as soon as I walked out the door and stood out there for a little bit, just a random officer came by because she told me that the other officers were on traffic stops. So I didn’t, at that point, I felt like I probably didn’t think I was going to speak to someone. Officer comes up and he makes it clear that it’s against their ordinance to record the police, record in this area.
And I say, well, we’re in a public area. You know, this is perfectly fine. And in the meantime, it didn’t hit me that I was being detained right then and there, I was just trying to get questions, and he was like, who are you? What’s your name and date of birth? After I gave my business card. So it hit me like, oh, you’re detaining me. Oh, okay. And then as soon as that made that statement clear, the second officer just takes my camera and puts it on the top of – And I didn’t want him to take it because the camera was expensive, the camera was like almost $7,000. I didn’t want them to just grab my camera or fight with them over it. I was like, okay, okay, okay. I’ll set it down. So I set it down facing the opposite direction.
And when I did that, the officer turns off my livestream. I kind of back up here a little bit, because I want a lot of people to understand when you record, there’s an art to it. If you have your cameras set up a certain way, or if you’re very knowledgeable on how to use your equipment and you’re quick with it, you’re able to flip it to show different angles. So as soon as they took my camera, I quickly tapped on the phone to swap the camera view so it’s facing me. So that way it shows them turning off my livestream. So with that, I was just like, wow, you guys are literally turning it off. And it shows which officer turns it off, so there’s no dispute about that. It happened and the officer was caught on camera.
At that point the officers redirected their attention to my body camera. I did not want to touch it. I did not want to show them how to take it off. I wanted to let them do the work because if they couldn’t take it off then they’re just probably going to leave it there. So they eventually found out how to take it off, and then when they took it off, I tried to kind of distract their attention or tried to re-divert their attention towards me and away from my equipment because I realized my camera was still going. So it captured some very interesting conversations about why they had the ordinance there.
And it became clear that it was YouTubers. YouTubers are the reason why they have this ordinance. People who come up here filming are the reason why they had the ordinance. The officer, the one who turned off my camera, said, you’re the third person that came up here recording. And I was like, okay. So it makes it very clear why you have this ordinance, and you’re pretty much trying to make up your own laws and just disregard what the Constitution says.
Taya Graham: So you’re a cop watcher and an auditor. How is what you do different than other auditors?
Philip Turner: I think it all started as a First Amendment test. That’s what it was always called before it was called audit. I’m not sure how First Amendment audit came about. I think it just kind of caught traction because everybody started categorizing it as that. And then now became the auditors. I don’t necessarily think I would call myself an auditor, I would probably say I’m more of a video journalist. Because I know there’s some people who read the articles and stuff online. However, I was thinking about branching out as showing the situation, giving a back story on it, and then letting people watch the video and come to their own conclusion.
Taya Graham: So tell me about some of the work auditors have done to make things better for residents and to hold police accountable.
Philip Turner: As far as whenever I watch other people’s videos on YouTube, I get messages about, what do you think about this style? Or what do you think about how this auditor’s doing it? And I told them, I said, look, everybody has their own style. Everybody’s different. There’s an audience for everything, and as long as they’re not breaking any laws, then they’re fine. You have the right to do what you have to do. You have the First Amendment right, you have free speech, you have those things. And I pretty much encourage people to use their First Amendment rights, especially when it comes to free speech. But that’s just something that I don’t do because I know there could be some backlash when I go to the court level, so that’s what I try to avoid. But from just looking into it, I’m just open to everybody’s style and there’s the audience for everything. And I respect everybody’s style just as long as they’re not breaking the laws.
Taya Graham: Now, I think it’s interesting that there’s so much controversy over the simple act of filming a public building. I mean, with all the clear issues that plague this country with regards to income inequality, global warming, and a seemingly endless pandemic, you’d think a man with a camera would be the least vexing problem for government officials to solve. In fact, the notion that police and the courts have time to make arrests, charge, and otherwise process what could at worst be described as the most victimless crime ever, really makes me question the idea that we hear so often from elites and politicians that police need more resources, not less. And what’s even more ironic about this whole incident besides the fact that there was settled case law that prohibits what happened is how uncomfortable government officials are when citizens turn the cameras on them in contrast to how easily they like to turn the cameras on us.
I mean, if you look around my city of Baltimore, there are too many cameras to count. That’s partially because our city has its own CCTV system which constantly monitors people throughout the community with a variety of cameras that are often hidden and used in ways that are accountable to no one. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that our city police department hired a so-called spy plane to fly over the city without telling any of us, an act that was done in complete secrecy. It was also a move that entailed hiring a company without our spending board’s approval called, and I am not being ironic, Persistent Surveillance.
And that’s not the only method government officials use to monitor us. Let’s remember that license plate recognition technology is standard operating equipment for most police departments. And let’s not also forget that we’re in the nascent phase of police using facial recognition software. Which, I should note, has already led to several false arrests and multiple lawsuits. But that’s just the beginning of how easily the elites feel free to surveil us.
Bear in mind we are literally living in the age of surveillance capitalism. An era where billionaires can monitor every click and webpage and every photo and every scrap of data we post to rack up profits for themselves. They literally have an open window into the very marrow of our lives. Data that they gather has led to enormous profits and billionaire largess – And, I might point out, a weaker network of independent journalism and other institutions of alternative information that are very much diminished by these tech behemoths. The point I’m trying to make here is that at the very least we should have the same rights afforded to the powerful, wealthy, and otherwise entitled. Perhaps the point auditors like Battousai are trying to make is not just that they can film a police station, but a deeper, more symbolic commentary on just how extreme the imbalance of power is between the governed and the governors, the watched and the watchers.
I mean, if the police have the money, time, and energy to arrest a man for filming a building – Let me repeat that: a building, there must be something truly consequential at stake to literally waste court time to arrest and prosecute a man holding a cell phone camera. Maybe it’s what he represents that is more threatening than the act itself. The point is the act of filming them, the act of turning the camera around on them, is perhaps the first and most symbolic gesture of defiance that the powers that be can’t handle. Maybe turning the camera around on them is what they perceive as the first step towards a general lack of compliance with the other transgressions these powerful institutions and wealthy interests have foisted upon us. Maybe they’re afraid that if we really look through the lens we won’t like what we see, that we won’t accept the fact that police have pricey and generous benefits and lifetime pensions while the rest of us drown in debt over unpaid medical bills. Maybe we don’t like the fact that most of us became poorer during the pandemic while just a small group of billionaires increased their wealth by half a trillion dollars.
Maybe we won’t like the fact that as rural hospitals close and teacher salaries are frozen, the police keep getting free new military equipment from the government to give them even more tactical power over the people who can least afford it. Maybe that’s why they fight so hard to keep us from watching. And maybe that’s why we won’t stop turning the camera on them.
I would like to thank my guest Philip Turner, better known as Battousai, for joining us here today. Thank you so much for your time. And of course, I have to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his writing, his research, his editing, and his hard work on this piece. Thank you so much, Stephen.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks so much for having me. I just want to give a shout out to Jimmy Touchdown.
Taya Graham: And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t 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 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 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 we do have a Patreon account linked in the comments below if you would like to help us continue to do this type of independent reporting. My name is Taya Graham, and I’m your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please, be safe out there.