Tag Archives: Jason Villalba

TX Rep. Jason Villalba Scraps Bill That Would Limit Filming Of Police

Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) confirmed last Friday that he is no longer seeking a public hearing for House Bill 2918, a measure that would have made it illegal for citizens and independent media to record police activity within 25 feet.

HB 2918 proposed a 25-foot “buffer zone” between citizen recording and police activity or, as Villalba described it, a “halo.” For a citizen recording while also carrying a handgun, the “halo” would be expanded to 100 feet. An individual filming inside the 25-foot area could face up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine, while a person filming while carrying a handgun inside the expanded 100-foot zone could face up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

One notable provision of the bill would have exempted one group from Villalba’s proposed “halo”: traditional news media. HB 2918 would have allowed FCC-licensed radio and TV stations and qualified magazines and newspapers to film police activity as closely as necessary, allowing them exclusive access to incidents that would not be granted to independent media.

In March, the Dallas Morning News had reported that Villalba “conceded the value of well-meant citizens with cameras and bloggers in pajamas, those people who school themselves on issues and bring things to light over social media.”

“He said he doesn’t want to put the screws to them. What his bill IS aimed at, Villalba said, are cop-watch groups that consist of ‘agitators posing as journalists in order to interfere’ with officers doing their job.”

Villalba later came under fire for telling his staff to block HB 2918’s skeptics and critics from his Twitter account after he had received an influx of questions and criticisms. Villalba admitted that “my instruction to staff was, ‘If you get something at all that looks like a troll, delete it.’ That’s why folks who might otherwise be legitimate news sources might have been blocked.” To handle the outpouring of criticism, he also reportedly told his staff to “delete all voice mails without listening to them. Do not answer the phones today. Leave the office and work from home if you like.”

Despite the negative responses from citizens and civil liberty groups, Villalba remained steadfast in his belief that HB 2918 would protect police. “We thought when we wrote our bill that we were making it safe not only for the police officers by that [25-foot] buffer zone, but also for those individuals that are seeking to keep law enforcement accountable to give them a safe zone to film,” Villalba said.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Villalba said that the Dallas Police Association and the Texas Municipal Police Association had originally proposed the idea of a protected area for police officers. However, Villalba did say that legislation is not likely to be successful, acknowledging that “I think the public has spoken very loudly.”

Colorado Bill Would Impose Penalty On Police Interfering With Citizen Recording

In contrast to Texas legislation introduced by state representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) that would penalize a citizen for filming police activity within a proposed 15-foot area, lawmakers in Colorado have introduced a bill that would penalize police officers for obstructing, seizing or destroying citizen recording.

House Bill 15-1290 is one of several measures that have been introduced this month in Colorado in an effort to increase police oversight. HB 15-1290 “creates a private right of action against a peace officer’s employing law enforcement agency if a person records an incident involving a peace officer and a peace officer destroys the recording or seizes the recording without receiving consent or obtaining a warrant or if the peace officer intentionally interferes with the recording or retaliates against the person making the recording. The person who recorded the peace officer incident is entitled to actual damages, a civil penalty of $15,000, and attorney fees and costs.”

Colorado state representative and HB 15-1290 co-sponsor Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) said that “Primarily, it came up as a result of the number of news reports we’ve been seeing about police officers telling people, ‘Give me your camera,’ or taking the data away, and that is unacceptable conduct.”

Last November, man named Levi Frasier witnessed and filmed an altercation between Denver police and a drug suspect. Video captured by Frasier showed an officer delivering multiple punches to the suspect and tripping the suspect’s pregnant girlfriend. Frasier told Fox31 Denver that police seized the tablet Frasier was using to record the incident, and when the tablet was returned the video was missing. Frasier was able to retrieve the video because it had been also stored on a cloud.

In January, a woman named Bobbie Ann Diaz accused Denver police of prohibiting her daughter Brianna from filming at the scene of the death of Jessica Hernandez, a 17-year-old accused of driving a stolen car who was fatally shot by police while she was inside the vehicle. “At that time, (the officers) put Jessie down and they were on their knees yelling at Brianna that she better not record. She better not,” Diaz said.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police said that it doesn’t support a $15,000 penalty because of an existing process in the courts to determine if a police officer acted appropriately.

Legislation to protect the rights of citizens recording police is among several other measures that seek to provide police reform. Other measures to be considered include:

  • Creating a grant program for departments to promote purchase and use of police body cameras.
  • Data collection of officer-involved shootings (OIS), including the demographics and details of the incidents.
  • Providing law enforcement agencies the ability to analyze a prospective officer’s job history before hiring. According to CBS Denver, officers currently can utilize non-disclosure agreements upon leaving a job to prevent access to records.
  • De-escalation training and profiling prevention training for officers.
  • Appointing a special prosecutor to review situations when an officer is not charged for using deadly force or excessive force.

The bills regarding reviewing records of prospective police hires and data collection of OIS cases were advanced on Wednesday by The Senate Judiciary Committee. Another proposal to allow other agencies to investigate a shooting instead of leaving the investigation exclusively to the jurisdiction where the incident occurred was also advanced by the committee.

 

Villalba Accused Of Blocking Twitter Users Criticizing Police-Filming Legislation, Plans To Make Changes To Bill

Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) recently attracted significant criticism, reportedly even from members of his own political party, due to his introduction of a controversial bill that would create a 25-foot buffer zone between police activity and individuals wishing to film it.

Villalba’s House Bill 2918, if passed, would make filming police activity from less than 25 feet away a crime punishable by prison and/or fines if the person conducting the recording is not a member of FCC-licensed media or an approved newspaper or magazine. HB 2918 would also create a larger 100-foot buffer zone for individuals recording while carrying a handgun.

Breitbart noted that numerous Twitter users said that they were being blocked by Villalba for criticizing his bill or asking questions about it. Among those allegedly blocked was journalism student Kate Rhoads, who was covering HB 2918 and wanted a statement from Villalba. Rhoads was blocked by Villalba after asking “If Title 8, Ch. 38 of the TX Penal Code already makes it illegal to impede police activity, why is HB 2918 needed?” Villalba later unblocked Rhoads and said he would grant her an interview after the public committee hearing on the bill scheduled for Thursday, March 26th.

In response to the complaints from Twitter about the congressman blocking criticism, Rep. Villalba told The Dallas Morning News that “my instruction to staff was, ‘If you get something at all that looks like a troll, delete it.’ That’s why folks who might otherwise be legitimate news sources might have been blocked.” He told the paper that he believes social media is not a good place to debate legislation “because the mooment (sic) you try to explain yourself the trolls come out.”

Villalba or his staff  also deleted his own heated Twitter post that stated:

“To anyone who doesn’t like HB 2918- Deal with it. I stand with cops who keep my family safe. If you don’t like it- vote me out of office.”

Villalba refused to withdraw HB 2918, but told WFFA that he would reduce the buffer zone to 15 feet around police required for everyone, including the media. “All we’re saying is provide what we call a halo. Give them a little room. We’re not saying don’t film. We’re not saying stop. We’re saying just step back a little bit,” Villalba told WFFA’s Inside Texas Politics over the weekend, also noting that he has received “significant death threats” since introducing the bill. He said that due to the death threats he pulled his Texans For Jason Villalba Facebook page.

WFFA reported that Villalba said police had proposed the buffer zone idea to him.

Villalba maintains his position that HB 2918 was created to “ensure that citizens have the right to keep our law enforcement accountable but also provide a level of safety for our police officers that doesn’t currently exist.” Villalba told The Houston Chronicle that HB 2918 will allow police to work without having to take the “interim step” of pushing back obstructive citizens who are filming the activity.

This post has been updated to include Villalba’s response made to The Dallas Morning News regarding Twitter users accusing him of blocking tweets about HB2918.

Texas Bill Would Restrict Filming Of Police, Segregate Independent Journalists

A bill that would require civilians to stand back between 25 and 100 feet before recording and documenting police activity, introduced by Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) earlier this month, has caused significant controversy. HB 2918 would create a 25-foot buffer zone around police activity requiring citizens to film outside of that area. For an individual filming while also carrying a handgun, the buffer zone would be extended to 100 feet. A person caught filming inside of the 25-foot zone could face 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine; a person filming while carrying a handgun inside the 100-foot zone could face up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Texas state law currently prohibits people from interfering with police activity.

Villalba wrote on Twitter that he introduced the bill to protect the police. Villalba also insisted that the bill does not prohibit filming. “I thought that was reasonable, 25 feet,” Villalba said. “I measured that out in my office. It didn’t seem to be terribly disruptive. I’m not trying to limit the ability to film. I don’t have any problems with that.”

Attorney Alicia Wagner Calzada pointed out that “When you think about how long 25 feet is, it’s longer than the average pickup truck, it’s longer than the average room, so you could not photograph a police officer within the same room.” Cazalda said some kind of “reasonable buffer”  may be acceptable but that 25 feet as a rule is arbitrary. “If you’re sitting in the backseat of a car, and someone pulls over the driver, and you want to shoot a video of the interaction between the driver and the cop, obviously you can’t be twenty-five feet away. But you’re also really not interfering by sitting in the backseat running your cell phone.”

One critical provision in the bill seeks to exempt certain journalists from the proposed buffer zone. FCC-licensed radio and TV stations, regularly published magazines and qualified newspapers would not have to abide by the 25-foot rule.

A statement from the ACLU of Texas criticized Villalba’s bill, stating “Texans have a First Amendment right to record police officers in public places as they perform their duties. Many high-profile incidents of police abuse, like LAPD officers’ beating of Rodney King, would never have been exposed to public scrutiny but for the citizen journalists on the scene who dared to record conduct that they believed was wrong. HB 2918 would deprive us of an important check against abuse of power by the police.”

Since the bill’s introduction, Villalba acknowledged to The Dallas Morning News that he should have read the bill closer before filing it, and stated that it has some flaws, such as the language that would subject a violator to arrest. Villalba also admitted there may be a problem with the creating two classes of journalists in his bill and articulated his disapproval of cop-watching groups:

And he said he will work on the bill language that creates two classes of video-makers- one employed by established media and the other consisting of everyone else. Villalba conceded the value of well-meant citizens with cameras and bloggers in pajamas, those people who school themselves on issues and bring things to light over social media. He said he doesn’t want to put the screws to them. What his bill IS aimed at, Villalba said, are cop-watch groups that consist of “agitators posing as journalists in order to interfere” with officers doing their job.

“They follow the police scanner, and as soon as they hear about an arrest,” Villalba said, “they immediately get in the vicinity of the officer and start taunting the officer while the arrest is occurring.”