Police cover up home security cameras, raising questions about transparency
After the US Marshals Service broke down Sarah Peeler’s door trying to arrest her son, a question about what she considers too destructive a raid forced itself upon her: why did the marshals obstruct the camera guard from his front door as they prepared to enter the house?
With the proliferation of inexpensive home security cameras, law enforcement can be caught on camera like never before as they walk through doors, search homes, and make arrests. But two different raids in Dane County suggest law enforcement is beginning to reposition and obstruct cameras, a practice that some legal experts say undermines First Amendment protections for filming law enforcement.
Video of the raid on Peeler’s home in Marshall shows marshals approaching the door, one with a battering ram and some kind of adhesive in his hand ready to obstruct the camera’s view.
“I still don’t see what a huge threat my son or my property posed,” Peeler said, standing in the doorway she only recently fixed for about $2,500.
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Marcus Collins, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals’ Madison office, said marshals do not “disclose operational tactics used during high-risk arrests.”
“The methods employed in this attempted arrest were for officer safety reasons based on information that the subject may have been armed with a firearm,” Collins said.
Peeler disputes that her son, Kameron Montgomery, has a history of firearms, which was listed as a “reason for caution” on his Department of Corrections warrant for driving a stolen car and violating his parole.
Montgomery was never charged with a firearms offense either. The gun warning came from Montgomery’s parole officer, DOC spokesman John Beard said.
A supervisor can include that designation on a warrant “based on available information” not necessarily related to prior criminal charges, Beard said.
Lauren Bonds, legal director of the National Police Accountability Project, said the obstruction of cameras is consistent with how law enforcement often treats civilians who attempt to film them.
“Law enforcement is obviously aware of the proliferation of these cameras,” Bonds said.
Federal courts have Many times confirmed the right for the public to film law enforcement. Beyond that, Wisconsin is a one-party consent state for recording, which makes it legal to record someone without their permission or knowledge, as long as the person recording is part of the conversation. , noted other legal experts.
Easier to ‘lie’?
Jeremiah Meyer-O’Day, a criminal defense attorney with the law firm Madison Martinez & Ruby, called the practice of disabling home security cameras “illegitimate.”
“Otherwise why would you cover the cameras unless you want the ability to lie about what you’re doing? said Meyer-O’Day.
Meyer-O’Day said he’s worked on cases in other parts of Wisconsin where law enforcement has disabled cameras. In these, he used it in an attempt to challenge police claims that are contradicted by another witness. But he saw little success with that argument.
In Madison, home security cameras captured allegations of police misconduct. In 2019, cameras recorded Madison police officers delivering three blows to the head of a black teenager who resisted their attempts to take him from his foster home to a mental health facility. At the time, a Madison police spokesperson said the officers’ violations of policies governing the documentation of use-of-force incidents and the operation of his squad car’s video system “did not resulted in no disciplinary action”.
Last month, attorneys for the 20-year-old signed a $1.1 million settlement with the city’s insurer to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit related to the arrest.
When the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration executed search and arrest warrants at a Sun Prairie residence last November, officers approached the front door with tape already in hand, all as federal marshals did to Peeler’s home, as seen in video of that raid. Other footage shows law enforcement obstructing three other cameras’ view of the property.
The Sun Prairie raid stems from a DEA investigation into Daniel Gibbs, whom authorities arrested at the residence on federal drug distribution charges. The government alleges that Gibbs sold methamphetamine to a confidential source three times in August and September 2021.
In an interview, Gibbs speculated that law enforcement had disabled and covered the cameras to prevent his arrest and the search of the home from being filmed.
The DEA declined to comment on the raid due to Gibbs’ ongoing court case.
“The DEA takes all allegations of misconduct and wrongdoing very seriously,” the agency said. “When such allegations are made, the DEA thoroughly investigates these allegations and, if true, holds these individuals accountable.”
Troubles of 2020
Law enforcement raids sparked controversy amid 2020 anti-police and racial justice protests. Speaking of the federal marshals’ raid of her home, Peeler brings up Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, during a raid in 2020.
Since federal marshals were warned about the guns, Peeler is grateful that she and her son weren’t home during the raid.
As for disabling the cameras, Madison criminal defense attorney Jessa Nicholson Goetz called it a legal gray area and a “problematic” practice from a public perception or optical perspective.
These cameras are different from police body cameras because their use and when they should be turned on and off are governed by internal police policies.
“My view is that I consider this obstructive conduct because they are concerned that the search and seizure will be recorded,” Nicholson Goetz said. “I don’t know why that would be the case.”