PAR: Cops tried to confiscate his phone without a warrant, things turned ugly when he refused

Dramatic video shows a Texas police officer brutally beating a man who refused to turn over his phone to police. The victim was not suspected of a crime and was voluntarily cooperating with police. Nevertheless, the police turned on him. The attack raises even more questions about the tactics of rural law enforcement and the failure of the police to police themselves.

Post-Production: Stephen Janis, Adam Coley


Transcript

Taya Graham:  Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome back to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. But 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 showing this video of a man who was attacked during an interview with police. The attack occurred as the victim voluntarily sat down with cops to discuss a crime for which he was not even a suspect. But it’s not just the attack itself, it’s the circumstances that led up to this moment and what happened after that we will unpack for you today.

But before I get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at par@therealnews.com. And please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and that I appreciate them. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And, if you can, please hit the Patreon donate link pinned in the comments below, because we do have some extras there for our PAR family. Okay, now we’ve gotten all of that out of the way.

Now, if there is one area of the country that we have encountered a disproportionate share of police overreach, it has to be Texas. The Lone Star State seems to have a penchant for aggressive policing and protracted prosecution that has been the ongoing subject of our efforts to expose police malfeasance.

I mean, I could run off a laundry list of cases that we have covered in the state, including the arrest of Otto the Watchdog for holding a sign, cop watcher David Boren for filming a car stop, the arrest and the assault of the Holguin family in El Paso, Texas, and this disturbing video that you’re seeing right now of Travis Bateman enduring a beating from a Paducah, Texas, sheriff during an arrest that can be best described as the result of questionable circumstances. But nothing in our past coverage prepared us for this video which we are showing you now.

It was sent to us by a viewer who was not even accused of a crime. Instead, he was voluntarily cooperating with the police in an investigation, and for his efforts he had to endure a seemingly brutal beat down. His story starts in Nacogdoches, Texas. There, Corey Roland agreed to speak to the Nacogdoches sheriff’s deputies about a series of thefts near his home involving a person who is living with him. However, during the interview, police asked to access his cell phone, a query that Roland said made him uncomfortable.

For one thing, Roland was not a suspect, but police also failed to give him any possible justification for taking his property. Roland was willing to show the officers his screen, but unwilling to hand over his phone. For that reason, Roland refused – As is his right – To allow police to rummage through his private data and personal interactions. Still, police apparently found his assertion of his Constitutional rights to be offensive, because when he declined the seizure of his property, they began to escalate. Let’s watch.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Sheriff:  [inaudible] Anything, there’s anything like that on there. We’re just wanting to see the conversation about our cases here.

Corey Roland:  Look, it’s just pressure. I’m in the compressor. No, you can’t have my phone. You can look, but cannot have my phone.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:  Now, it should be noted that it has been well established that a cell phone is protected by the Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches and seizures. That means police simply have no right to browse your phone without your consent or a warrant. And there have been a series of rulings which have reaffirmed that access to the contents of our phones is expressly protected by the same amendment.

But clearly, as we have seen in many cases we have covered involving Texas police and sheriffs, they either find the Constitutional rights inconvenient, or simply chose to ignore some of the pesky guidelines designed to protect us enumerated in our Constitution. Instead, when Roland flatly refused to turn over his phone, the Nacogdoches Sheriff’s department decided to respond with violence. Take a look.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Corey Roland:  [inaudible] Pressure. I’m in the compressor. No, you can’t have my phone. You can look, but cannot have my phone.

Sheriff:  [inaudible]. Hey, hey. You get back. Move. Get back.

Corey Roland:  What the hell?

Sheriff:  What’s wrong with you?

Corey Roland:  What the hell?

Sheriff:  We’re going to take it as evidence right now. What’s wrong with you?

Corey Roland:  I didn’t do shit.

Sheriff:  Yeah. You did.

Corey Roland:  You took my phone. That’s my personal property.

Sheriff:  Because I see.

Corey Roland:  That’s my personal property.

Sheriff:  Well, that’s the evidence.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:  Now, let’s remember, as we watch this brutal assault again, Roland was not, had not, and did not threaten violence, or even have the means to initiate a violent act. He hasn’t reached for something in his pocket or made a furtive movement, actions police often use to initiate force. He had not even been in the least disrespectful or uttered a single word that justified this response. Yet still, the sheriff attacked. Take a look.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS].

Corey Roland:  [inaudible] In the compressor. No, you can’t have my phone. You can look, but cannot have my phone.

Sheriff:  [inaudible] Hey, hey. You get back. Move. Get back.

Corey Roland:  What the hell?

Sheriff:  What’s wrong with you?

Corey Roland:  What the hell?

Sheriff:  We’re going to take it as evidence right now. What is wrong with you?

Corey Roland:  I didn’t do shit.

Sheriff:  Yeah. You did.

Corey Roland:  You took my phone. That’s my personal property.

Sheriff:  Because I see.

Corey Roland:  That’s my personal property.

Sheriff:  Well, that’s the evidence.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:  In fact, this aggressive assault is so outside the boundaries of use of force protocols, that it would not be unreasonable to characterize it as nothing less than a crime itself. But what’s even more disturbing about this video is how the officers responded after the attack. Because as you can see, the assorted members of law enforcement just sat around like nothing happened. That’s right. After what was an obvious violation of both Roland’s rights and his persons, the fellow deputies simply said nothing.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Sheriff:  I see.

Corey Roland:  That’s my personal property.

Sheriff:  Well, that’s the evidence.

Corey Roland:  Oh. [inaudible]

Sheriff:  No. We’re not done here. You’re trying to scroll real fast from that.

Corey Roland:  I’m not trying to scroll fast. I was just scrolling. Shit.

Sheriff:  Is there something on the phone that you don’t…

Corey Roland:  There’s nothing on my phone. It’s just mine.

Deputy:  And we understand that. That’s why we at least want to see the conversation, but you [inaudible].

Corey Roland:  I was trying to show him the conversation. I was trying to show him the conversation.

Deputy:  I mean, when there’s suspected stolen property on the phone and we asked for the phone, you can’t sit there and try to remove possible…

Corey Roland:  I wasn’t trying to remove anything.

Deputy:  …Evidence from the phone. Okay?

Corey Roland:  I wasn’t trying to remove anything. There’s nothing. I mean, the phone is the phone.

Sheriff:  Why was it a big deal for me to look at it?

Corey Roland:  Because I don’t trust Nacogdoches County.

Sheriff:  Okay.

Corey Roland:  Period.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:  And, as you will learn later, he was not offered medical attention or even the option of seeking care. So, soon we will be talking to Corey Roland about how this ordeal has affected him, the consequences, and what he is doing to fight back. But first, to learn more about what happened and how police are justifying this use of force, I’m joined by my reporting partner Stephen Janis, who has been reaching out to the police for an explanation. Stephen, thank you so much for joining us.

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

Taya Graham:  So, Stephen, you have reached out to the Nacogdoches Texas Sheriff’s office. What did they say?

Stephen Janis:  Well, I sent them a very detailed question about the issues raised in the lawsuit and about what we saw in the video, and their big answer to me was, no comment at this time. So, at this time, they are not commenting, and I don’t think we’ll get a comment from them, honestly, given the way they responded.

Taya Graham:  So, based on your extensive reporting on use of force, what stands out to you in the video we’ve just seen?

Stephen Janis:  Well, you can’t use force to obtain evidence. That’s a number one rule. You can’t literally punch a person to give your phone or punch a person. The only time you really can use force as a police officer, mostly, is when you feel like someone’s life is in danger. And I don’t see that here. I don’t see anybody’s life in danger. I think they just saw… Now, if you could do a no-knock warrant, if you say there’s obviously a problem if evidence would be destroyed, but that’s not the case here. The guy was sitting there with his phone. He’s not going to throw his phone in the toilet while he’s sitting there facing the cops. So, there was absolutely no justification for this.

Taya Graham:  So, I have to ask. You’ve reported on at least half a dozen cases involving a variety of Texas law enforcement departments. Are there any trends that stand out to you?

Stephen Janis:  Well, just anecdotally, looking at what I report on, there seems to be this idea with the Texas police that we make the law up as we go along. In other words, a lot of the judicial restraint – If that’s even a thing – That you might see in other jurisdictions or other states, maybe don’t apply to any of the cases we’ve seen in Texas. Kind of like, hey, I make up the law. I’m not worried about judicial oversight or some lawyer coming in. I’m just going to do what the hell I want. And if you push back against me, I’ll make you disappear into a system where you’ll never see the light of day forever. So, I think what scares me about Texas police is how little regard they have for the law, and seemingly how little training they have. So, it’s a little scary.

Taya Graham:  And now, to get more on the sequence of events that led to this disturbing video and how it has impacted his life, I’m joined by Corey Roland. Corey, thank you so much for joining me. So, first, can you explain why you were at the station with the Nacogdoches Sheriffs? What were they looking for? What were they investigating?

Corey Roland:  They were investigating a guy that was staying with me, him stealing stuff. And I went up there to clear my name, and then they did what they did.

Taya Graham:  Were you there voluntarily? And what kind of questions were they asking you?

Corey Roland:  I was not under arrest, nor was I being detained. First question asked [inaudible] message with me and Seth. And I started showing them messages between me and Seth. It is what it is.

Taya Graham:  Why did the sheriff suddenly grab your phone?

Corey Roland:  He said he saw a picture of something stolen in the messages, but in the messages there wasn’t anything stolen, but he thought there was.

Taya Graham:  What were you thinking when the officer started punching you? What was going on in your mind?

Corey Roland:  Really didn’t know what was going on. It happened so fast. And I only remember him hitting me one time, but when he hit me, my head hit the wall. So, I blacked… It knocked me out for a few seconds.

Taya Graham:  When he started punching you, it looked extremely painful. Did they offer you any medical attention?

Corey Roland:  No, they did not.

Taya Graham:  Do you plan on filing a complaint against the officers involved?

Corey Roland:  I already have him under federal lawsuit.

Taya Graham:  What is your federal lawsuit contending? What’s the basis of the case?

Corey Roland:  Official [inaudible] and assault. And they did an internal investigation, and then they straight up lied on their paperwork on that. In their internal investigation, it says I was non-compliant and he hit me in the right arm and right shoulder to get me to comply. I wasn’t supposed to get the body camera, but I did. So, the guy that’s sitting on the right in the video, he’s a constable for Shelby County, his lawyer kept trying to get him out of the lawsuit said, well, if you watch the video, you can tell he didn’t do anything. My lawyer said, what video? And he said, you don’t have a copy of the video? And he said, no. So, he sent it to me. My lawyer requested it 43 times from Nacogdoches County and they never would give it to him.

Taya Graham:  Has this officer actually faced any disciplinary action?

Corey Roland:  He has not missed a day of work yet.

Taya Graham:  So, what happened after he took your phone? Did you receive your property back?

Corey Roland:  They kept my phone. They said they were going to get a warrant for it. I said, well, until you get a warrant on it I want my phone back. They said no.

Taya Graham:  Did they ever get a warrant to go through your phone? I know they forced you to give your pin code.

Corey Roland:  That happened on March 5. They got the warrant. The judge signed the warrant on the 17th of March, but it wasn’t filed with the district clerk’s until the 24th of March. But it wasn’t actually filed with the district clerk’s office until the 24th [inaudible]. It was 12 days after they hit me that they got a judge to give a warrant and, was another then seven days after that before it was filed with the district clerk’s office.

Taya Graham:  So, they had already gone through your phone…

Corey Roland:  They sat there and went through my entire phone. [inaudible] Whole hour and a half video of the body camera footage now.

Taya Graham:  Are you aware of other people having problems with the Nacogdoches Police Department or Sheriff’s Department? I mean, are they known for being aggressive with the public?

Corey Roland:  They have six different… My lawyer has six different known complaints filed against them right now for them jailers beating up people in jail, protocols, and one custodial death.

Taya Graham:  Has this interaction changed how you feel about law enforcement? You were there to help the police voluntarily. So, has this incident changed the way you think of police?

Corey Roland:  I’ve always been skeptical of Nacogdoches County, but I showed up. I don’t trust none of them now.

Taya Graham:  Now, usually when I report on cases like the abuse of Corey Roland, I often receive pushback that has less to do with the circumstances and more to do with the severity of the police overreach we just witnessed. So, what I mean is that because there are so many examples of even worse police behavior in this country, sometimes people will simply say, why should I care about his case when he went home alive? Well, I think that’s a fair question, and one that I will try to answer.

First, I think it’s important to understand that when it comes to systemically bad policing behavior, there are often clues and cues that hint at broader, more intractable problems that might not be readily apparent at first glance. In other words, an act that seems otherwise compartmentalized to a specific case such as Mr. Roland’s is often just a symptom of a more serious disease.

So, what do I mean? Well, consider the shocking and alarming case of false murder convictions unfolding in Chicago right now. There, prosecutors just asked a judge to vacate the sentences of eight – Let me repeat this, eight – People convicted of murder. You heard me right. Law enforcement there has concluded that no less than eight people serving out decades-long sentences are more than likely innocent. It is, in fact, one of the broadest mass exonerations in the history of the US justice system, a sweeping indictment of our criminal justice system, and its capacity to protect the innocent while in the pursuit of the guilty.

So, how does this story of widespread injustice relate to the story I just shared with you? Well, simply because all the tossed convictions and apparently innocent people who were previously deemed to be murderers were all put behind bars by a single cop.

That’s right. All the unjust convictions and personal mayhem wreaked upon a group of innocents stemmed from bad behavior of one rogue officer. His name is Reynaldo Guevara, and he was a former Chicago police detective and officer who was involved in roughly 36 cases which have now been overturned. A former cop who, since he retired, has not been punished, despite pleading the Fifth each and every time he has been asked about his work which led to the illegal and unconscionable imprisonment of dozens of innocent people.

And might I add, a man who Chicago authorities have set aside $75 million to defend, and perhaps for payout settlements in response to lawsuits filed by his victims. A cop whose reputation was questioned by those same victims decades prior, but who were ignored by the same city that is now prepared to use taxpayer money to pay for their past negligence.

So, as you can see, this example gives us a really good reason to highlight bad behavior by cops as much as possible. Why? Because if there is one lesson Detective Guevara’s case teaches us, it’s that our country has given enormously spectacular powers to individual cops. And I’m not talking about the power to stop you unlawfully and ask you to hand over your ID or the power to hand out speeding tickets. No, I’m talking about the power to put someone in a cage for decades who didn’t do a damn thing wrong.

The type of power I am referencing here is the type of broad overreach once afforded to kings, the absolute right to simply annul the freedom of an individual, falsely accuse them of a crime, destroy their lives in the process – Oh, and, incidentally, let the actually guilty party roam free. And then, on top of it, make these same people immune from any accountability, and make taxpayers who had to suffer through their destructive behavior pay off the people they abused.

I mean, it is truly amazing to think about the breathtaking power one city bestowed upon a single person. It’s just startling how quickly a police officer can be transformed into a monster of oppression. A single man with a single badge, empowered to falsely imprison, arrest, disparage, and disgrace dozens of people. And that same person, when exposed, is still protected from the consequences of the law that he’s so brazenly imposed on others. And that is why it is important to report on any and all instances of police misconduct we encounter, not just to nitpick or hound a specific officer or department, and not just to create dramatic journalism that will hold your attention. No, the reason we follow up on these types of stories is simply because ignoring them can lead to the same type of overreach we see in the case of Guevara. Deciding that a single questionable arrest and a violation of a person’s rights is just not worth reporting only expands the sense of impunity which has informed the state of policing across this country for decades.

I mean, you heard the mantra over and over again, that we are a nation of laws. It is a philosophy touted by the powers that be as the bedrock of our republic. But I think cases like Guevara’s and the assault we witnessed on video challenges that assertion. If that were indeed the case, why would the people who enforce the law not be subject to it? Why would cops who violently violate people’s rights do so without a sliver of real accountability? And that’s why we will continue to report on cases like Mr. Roland’s, and why we remain committed to holding police accountable, however and wherever it’s needed, so that the idea of a so-called “just society” is a reality for all of us.

I’d like to thank my guest Corey Roland for coming forward and sharing his experience. Thank you, Corey. 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. I’ve missed you guys. 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 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, and of course, you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And please like and comment. I do read the comments and appreciate them. Even if I don’t always get a chance to respond, I promise you I read them. And we do have a Patreon link pinned in the comments below. So, if you feel inspired to donate, please do, because we don’t run ads or take corporate dollars. So, anything you can spare is greatly appreciated. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

Taya Graham

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.

Stephen Janis

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.