June 8, 2011 at 11:43 AM ET
A police shooting of a man in Miami Beach on Memorial Day was terrifying, but when it was over, officers turned their attention to a man filming the violent scene with his cellphone. They demanded the device, smashed it and probably thought that was that; no video anymore. It was not: Narces Benoit had had the presence of mind to pull the phone's memory card with the video on it from his cellphone and put the card in his mouth.
That action saved the video you see above, showing the police shooting dead a suspect at the end of a chase, and some of what happened to Benoit. It was after the shooting ended that police turned their sights on Benoit, who had been darting behind trees and stop signs, filming with his HTC Evo phone.
At about 1:38 into the video, we see and hear a police officer turn to Benoit and shout: "Gimme the phone now!"
Benoit's response: "I ain't got no weapon!"
And he did not: But more and more cellphones are becoming weapons of sorts to police, who are finding themselves filmed in public places and not liking it. Just about everyone has a cellphone, and just about every cellphone now shoots video of some kind.
In New Jersey, the ACLU is pursuing the case of a high school student who used her phone to take video of police on a city bus who arrested a man, then took her into custody because she refused to turn her cell phone off. Police later released the teen, but not before erasing the video on her phone.
Benoit and his girlfriend got into their car to leave, but not before a police officer turned his gun on the couple (see it at about 2 minutes into the video), demanding they get out of the car. The couple complied.
"They put guns to our heads and threw us on the ground,” his girlfriend, Ericka Davis, told the Miami Herald. Benoit told the newspaper an officer yanked his phone from him and said:
“You want to be [expletive] Paparazzi?” and stomped on his phone before placing him in handcuffs and shoving the crunched phone in Benoit’s back pocket. He said the couple joined other witnesses already in cuffs and being watched by officers, who were on the lookout for two passengers who, police believe at the time, had bailed out of Herisse’s car. It is still not known whether any passengers were in the car.
After getting his broken cell phone back, "he discreetly removed the ... card and placed it in his mouth," said the newspaper, which also reported the couple contends that officers "smashed several other cell phones in the ensuing chaos."
The police chief says if the couple files a complaint, which they're considering doing, the police department will investigate. Otherwise, the department has had little to say about what happened.
The couple has hired a lawyer, but is still weighing what to do. "We just want the right thing to be done," Davis told the newspaper. "That was just too much."
Update: In a statement, the police department says, it "continues to work with the State Attorney’s office as we investigate the shooting," and that:
... in the course of the investigation, we received reports alleging that police officers confiscated a phone from a civilian bystander in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
Any and all video of the incident is crucial to the investigation, and it is not unusual for police to secure any video that may have evidentiary value. Several other phones were also secured during the course of the investigation.
"Contrary to Mr. Benoit’s statements to the media, the cell phone turned over to the Miami Beach Police Department is in working order; the only damage observed to the cell phone is to the lower right portion of the LCD screen and it is unknown when this damage occurred. This damage does not appear consistent with Mr. Benoit’s statements to the media that his phone was "smashed."
The department says it "takes seriously any allegations of police misconduct and urges anyone to report any concerns to the Department’s Internal Affairs Division" at (305) 673-7920.
— Via Gizmodo