An undercover sheriff’s deputy in Minnesota spotted a citizen recording him with a cellphone camera while driving and used his unmarked police vehicle to conduct a contentious, and probably unlawful traffic stop.
“The ACLU will eat this up” said the Minnesota woman who wasn’t suspected of a crime, but unlawfully detained by a Stearns County sheriff’s deputy in the three videos shared below.
She’s probably right.
Norma Orcutt of St. Cloud, Minnesota – the next large town west of the Minneapolis area, was driving when she noticed suspicious behavior and began recording it from her car, presuming the suspicious party to be a police officer.
After driving past the undercover officers a second time while “taking video” according to the Stearns County sheriff’s deputy, Orcutt’s rights conscious activities as a citizen journalist uncovered a video proving that the “YouTube effect” hasn’t quite reached snowy St. Cloud.
The deputy, who eventually identified himself as Paul Orvis, was in an unmarked car, and wore no insignia of office.
Orcutt stopped, then the deputy immediately requested her driver’s license and asked her, “What are you doing ‘taking video’ of us for?”
Orcutt replied, “Because I can, you’re a public servant and I can take videos of you. We’re in the public.”
She proceeded to ask the deputy what the reason he had to conduct a traffic stop.
The cop replied, “I want to know why you’re taking videos of us.”
Since photography is not a crime, it’s hard to imagine the officer suspected criminal intent in Orcutt, but what he lacked in suspicion of a crime, he made up for with curiosity to know why Orcut recorded him as they argued for several minutes on camera.
The deputy accused Orcutt of interfering with an investigation, but wouldn’t say that it rose to the level of a crime as the deputy detained the citizen journalist.
“Failing to identify yourself is a crime,” said the officer to which Orcutt replied, “no it’s not” several times.
After two minutes, Orcutt asked the officer for his name and badge number.
That was when Orvis identified himself, but in a sign of his heightened state of emotional arousal forgot to deliver his badge number.
According to the department, Orvis is a member of the Violent Offenders Task Force.
Shortly after identifying himself, deputy Orvis told Orcutt that she’d committed no crime, so she repeatedly asked, “Am I free to go.”
Orcutt was wrong about one thing, officers don’t need probable cause to make an investigatory detention, only reasonable suspicion, which is a lower standard than the probable cause required to make an arrest.
But deputy Orvis couldn’t reasonably articulate that suspicion, which is required of police seeking to use a “stop and identify” law under the doctrine established by the landmark Supreme Court ruling Terry vs. Ohio.
Nor does Minnesota have a statute on the books authorizing an officer to conduct a “stop and identify” action according to Reason.com report in 2014. The complete list of states which do have “stop and identify” laws on the books is here.
In fact, because the purpose of the stop was purely investigatory and not for any traffic infraction or suspected moving violation, the Minnesota deputy had absolutely no legitimate reason to request the driver’s identification.
But he was persistent.
Orcutt was right, the officer had no legal authority to demand identification, but it wouldn’t keep him from detaining her on the roadside for several minutes while running her tag to determine her identity.
“That’s kind of awkward, dontcha think? You’re the only one I know driving around video taping people,” said the deputy finally, to which Orcutt replied “People are starting to do that, its for Youtube-ing. Its for public officials, to make sure that public servants are being in compliance with people’s constitutional rights.”
While Orcutt is 100 percent correct about the First Amendment, in future videos she’ll probably hold her camera horizontally, because citizen journalism isn’t just about recording, but also about learning and presenting the material you gather for others to inspect or even report upon.
Vertical videos share only 40 percent of the entire scene with the viewing audience.
Plainly, this deputy has never heard of the Constitution, but in his pursuit of violent offenders of the law, the cop may rationalize that breaking the law himself is required to find others who break the law.
After a harrowing detention lasting more than seven minutes, Orcutt was allowed to leave.
Deputy Orvis dismissed her saying, “You are now free to leave. Have a wonderful day, we’ll talk with you later.”
So now, Orcutt remains the potential target of criminal investigation by Minnesota’s Stearns County Sheriff’s department – rightfully or wrongfully – but their violation of her plain assertion of the First Amendment right to record for publication is clear.
“I become very agitated with this public servants bullying, lying and harassment! I am a peaceful individual. I am NOT anti-government,” said Orcutt in her YouTube post, “I AM PRO PUBLIC OFFICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY! Educate your self and them. Know your unalienable rights.”
Call Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner at 320-259-3700 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.