Has LBPD's Camera-Smashing Exposed the City to More Lawsuits?
When the Long Beach Police Department conducts a raid on a medical-marijuana collective, it is standard operating procedure for officers to seize whatever video-recording devices they can find, ostensibly because they contain evidence of allegedly illegal activity.
Until recently, those seizures have prevented another LBPD standard operating procedure from coming fully to light: officers seeking out and smashing all video cameras that might record their actions.
But that changed with the June 19 raid on the THC Downtown Collective, when officers failed to confiscate all of the dispensary's DVRs and thus left behind video evidence of the practice, which complements reports by numerous other collectives claiming to have been subjected to similar treatment.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, that camera-smashing is almost certainly illegal.
"No matter how you look at it, it seems to me to violate the Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, which bar the deprivation of property without due process of law," says ACLU attorney Peter Bibring. "For a police officer to take something and smash it is depriving someone of property without due process. […] Cops can't destroy property. They can confiscate it; they can't destroy it."
According to the Fifth Amendment, "No person shall […] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," a guarantee re-emphasized in Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The matter may be made worse for the City by the fact that Deputy City Attorney Kendra Carney was present during the June 19 raid. Although Carney was never captured in-frame with officers while they smashed the dispensary's cameras, the LBPD's willingness to engage in the practice with a deputy city attorney present might be read as officers' belief that the City Attorney's Office regards such actions as legal.
Carney and City Attorney Robert Shannon declined to comment for this article. The LBPD also declined to comment, citing "ongoing investigations" that have resulted from a complaint and $1 million lawsuit filed for something else the video documents: an officer stepping on the base of the neck of collective member Dorian Brooks as he lay face-down with arms spread, then jamming a knee heavily into Brooks's back and wrenching his left arm awkwardly.
The Long Beach Post has viewed the unedited version of the video, which shows Brooks apparently in complete compliance with police instructions from the moment they first encounter him throughout the process of his handcuffing.
The video contains no sound element, but according to Brooks, while he was being handcuffed one of the three officers above him said to the others, "These guys don't want to open the door? Feel free to fuck them up."
Brooks says that once he was cuffed and seated upright, officers smashed a camera directly above him, which sent the camera's glass casing raining down on his head.
"They seemed like they were trying to hide something [by] breaking the cameras the way that they did," Brooks says. "They acted more like they were a gang, you know? […] This really needs to come to light, because who knows what things officers have done to other people. Luckily, this was on camera."