Here is something you don’t see often; a law enforcement officer arrested for deleting video footage.
His own, in fact, when he realized it would be used against him by investigators.
That decision ended up costing Broward Sheriff’s Detective Anthony Costanzo an additional charge of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison (he’s facing life in prison on other charges but more on that in a second).
The U.S. Department of Justice has already made it clear that deleting footage is a violation of the First, Fourth and 14thAmendments.
They even provide a web page with the step-by-step process in which to file a complaint against police officers that engage in misconduct.
And now South Florida investigators are proving that it could even land a cop in jail.
But the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office still insists on pursuing my charge of resisting police without violence when the evidence that was deleted and later recovered proves my innocence.
Costanzo or “Zo” as he is known by in law enforcement circles was among five deputies who pulled a woman over for making an improper left turn back in January.
Why it took five deputies to respond to this incident is not clear from the South Florida Sun Sentinel article, nor is it clear why they felt the need to search her car and purse.
But they ended up finding a bunch of pills on her, so they took her to jail, never mind the fact that she had a valid prescription. These days, you’re guilty until you’re proven innocent when it comes to medication.
While in custody, the woman told Costanzo that he reminded her of a couple of other law enforcement thugs who had falsely falsely imprisoned her on a prior occasion.
Turns out, Fort Lauderdale police officers Brian Christopher Dodge and Billy Charles Koepke were Constanzo’s buddies.
And he wasn’t about to let the fact that they had recently been arrested on extortion charges and were facing life in prison break that friendship bond.
So Costanzo used his cell phone to record the conversation he was having with the woman, then sent the recording to Koepke.
He was so sure of himself that he even bragged about his exploits to his sergeant. And that is where it all came to a screeching halt.
Later that same day, Costanzo told Broward Sheriff’s Sgt. Patrick Murray that Koepke was “a buddy” of his. Costanzo reminded his sergeant of the criminal charges against Koepke, showed him a portion of the video on his cellphone, said he had sent it to “Billy,” and that it was going to help Koepke with his criminal case, investigators said.
Costanzo’s cellphone was seized with a search warrant. FBI forensic analysts examined it and discovered that the video had been removed, deleted or destroyed, the report stated.
Witness tampering is a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison. Tampering with evidence, disclosure of confidential information, and felony use of a two-way communication device are all third-degree felonies punishable by up to five years in prison.
So maybe Costanzo will eventually join his buddies behind prison bars.
And as for the rest of the cops who make a habit out of deleting footage?
They are not as smart as they think they are.
Here are a few incidents of cops deleting footage or ordering citizens under threat of arrest to delete footage that I’ve documented on this blog over the years, including from my last two arrests.
- Miami-Dade police deleted a video clip from my camera after Major Nancy Perez arrested me for obstruction of justice and resisting arrest. I recovered the video, which will be entered as evidence in my upcoming trial. I will also use that video as evidence in the civil suit I will file once I get cleared of the criminal charges.
- Miami Beach police deleted several photos after they had handcuffed me for photographing them against their wishes in 2009. I recovered the photos and had my charges dismissed when the cop did not show up to court.
- Springfield (Massachusetts) police confiscated a woman’s phone last year after she recorded them pulling a man out of his car and dragging him away in handcuffs. When they returned it to her two months later, the clip had been deleted. A judge found this act “extremely troubling,” but let it go without further discussion.
- Memphis police confiscated a cell phone camera from an ABC news reporter who had recorded them issuing a ticket to a business owner, deleting the video clip before returning it to him.
- Federal officers in Washington D.C. snatched a flip camera from a man while they were harassing him for photographing the outside of a courthouse, which they described as a “sensitive building.” The federal officers deleted his video footage before returning the camera, telling him he had been violating the wiretapping law.
- Baltimore police deleted footage from a man’s cell phone after he had recorded them making an overly aggressive arrest at the Preakness Stakes in 2010. Christopher Sharp is now suing. The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to the federal judge presiding over the case, reminding him that it is a violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments for police to destroy footage.
- Chicago police deleted footage from the camera of a journalism professor last year after he recorded them making an arrest.
- A Pennsylvania state trooper ordered a man to delete his images after he photographed a nuclear power plant from the side of a public road last year.
- A New York City police officer ordered a man to delete his images after he had photographed an open ATM as well as a Muslim in 2010.
- Maryland police ordered a man to delete his images, threatening him with arrest if he did not comply, after he photographed a fatal traffic accident in 2009.
- Mississippi deputies deleted footage from the camera of Cop Block activists while they were touring the country in an RV in 2009.
- Wisconsin police deleted images from a student’s camera after he had photographed them making arrests in front of a bar in 2009.
- Chicago police arrested a photographer, then deleted more than 500 images he had taken of a crime scene, before returning it to him upon his release. He recovered the images.
- Oklahoma state troopers handcuffed a man, then placed him in the back of a patrol car while they deleted his images after he photographed them conducting a traffic investigation stemming from a high-speed chase in 2008. He later recovered the photos.
- A Coral Gables cop deleted a photo from the camera of a woman after she had photographed him sitting on a motorcycle talking on his cell phone. She later recovered the photo.