Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse . . . Unless You’re in Law Enforcement

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Cops in Philadelphia still can’t bring themselves to abide by the law. And their supervisors don’t seem all that interested in asking them to.

TAMERA MEDLEY begged the police officer to stop slamming her head – over and over – into the hood of a police cruiser.

Thinking they were helping, passers-by Shakir Riley and Melissa Hurling both turned their cellphone video cameras toward the melee that had erupted on Jefferson Street in Wynnefield, they said.

But then the cops turned on them.

Riley had started to walk away when at least five baton-wielding cops followed him, he said, and they beat him, poured a soda on his face and stomped on his phone, destroying the video he had just taken.

Meanwhile, two officers approached Hurling, urged her to leave and, after exchanging a few words, slammed her against a police cruiser, Hurling said. They pulled her by her hair before tossing her into the back of a cop car, she said.

Although it’s legal to record Philadelphia police performing official  duties in public, all three were charged with disorderly conduct and related offenses, and officers destroyed Hurling and Riley’s cellphones, erasing any record of Medley’s violent arrest, the pair said.

Charges against Hurling and Riley were dismissed, but Medley was found guilty last month of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, harassment and related offenses. She was fined $500 but has filed an appeal.

Echoes of the incident, which was corroborated by a half-dozen witnesses, have been reverberating nationwide in recent years as the combination of cellphone video and police officers has simmered into what is an increasingly explosive formula . . .

In another case last month, police allegedly began beating Darrell Holloway, who is legally blind, with flashlights and batons during a narcotics investigation on a West Philly street. There wasn’t much his cousin Jamal Holloway could do but record the incident on his phone.

Jamal, 33, said that when officers spotted him filming, he was detained and taken to a police station at 55th and Pine streets. Before he was brought inside, an officer told him to delete the video.

“One female cop told me to delete the stuff and then I can walk,” Jamal recalled, adding that the cop said she would confiscate his phone. “I was there close up. I can’t believe it happened like – they beating my cousin like that and he’s in the situation he’s in.”

Jamal said he opted to erase the footage. . .

Then in July, Zanberle Sheppard, 24, said neighbors told her that police were beating her handcuffed boyfriend, Tayvon Eure, in an alley behind their home on 65th Street near Chester.

Sheppard said she peered out her back window and began to film the arrest. After officers saw her, she said, they banged on her neighbor’s door. Sheppard ran outside and around to the alley with her cellphone, she said, and that’s when a cop told other officers to grab her phone.

She claims that when she pulled away from the cops, one officer grabbed her by her hair and she dropped her phone. Neighbor Robin Artis, 17, said she saw a cop punch Sheppard in the face and stomp her. Sheppard had a black eye and a bruised lip.

The next time she saw her phone was when the cop who allegedly beat her boyfriend came into the police station where Sheppard was and threw it at her, she said. The back of her phone was broken, the battery was missing and the video was gone.

These are crimes. The cops in these cases destroyed evidence. And the courts have been clear on the right to record on-duty police in Pennsylvania. Of course, when the city DA himself has no respect for the constitutional rights of his constituents, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when street-level cops follow his example. Especially when there are no consequences when they break the law.

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48 Responses to “Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse . . . Unless You’re in Law Enforcement”

  1. #1 |  akromper | 

    There probably is a phone app, not in use enough obviously, that automatically sends a recorded filed as a packet as soon as you stop recording.
    On another note. Nobody suggests that vigilantes are the answer but when you have no faith in the police to serve OR protect it’s predictable that there will the inevitable “law abiding citizen/s” straight out of a movie. Can’t say that I’ll blame them. Maybe then the police state creep will be drawn out into the open.

  2. #2 |  jb | 

    What can we do about this? I know people will post saying things about how the individual police officers must be held personally liable, and how politicians must be held acocuntable for the actions of the police, but honestly that isn’t going to happen at least for a long time.

    Short term:
    What can we, as individuals, do to protect ourselves against being the protagonists in the next story like this, without giving up our rights? If we find ourselves in that situation, can we do anything but sue the city? What organizations exist that will help people sue under conditions like that, and how can we help those organizations?

    Medium term:
    How can we, as individuals, best publicize these things and get them into the consciousness of the wider public? What avenues exist to best lobby politicians to look into these? How can we convince the statist skeptics that we have data rather than a few anecdotes (as horrible as the incidents Radley publicizes are, if there weren’t tens or hundreds of similar incidents that go unreported for every one that does, these abuses really wouldn’t be a big deal)?

  3. #3 |  Jesse | 

    Destroying evidence isn’t the only crime, it’s just the crime pursuant to the original more heinous crime which is armed, aggravated assault under color of law.

    This won’t change until courts recognize the right of citizens to protect themselves from criminals, regardless of whether they are private or under the employ of government.

  4. #4 |  Kristen | 

    There probably is a phone app, not in use enough obviously, that automatically sends a recorded filed as a packet as soon as you stop recording.

    There are several. One is called qik and has been mentioned several times by Radley in relation to similar stories as this.

  5. #5 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “These are crimes. The cops in these cases destroyed evidence.”

    After this, they should also go back and prosecute the Gang of Blue for the 250,000 deleted dashcam videos across America that had footage not flattering to the police.
    But then again, if Justice is Blind, what better way to keep her that
    way than to prevent her from seeing or hearing all that lurid misconduct?

  6. #6 |  Bronwyn | 

    Qik Pro (qik.com) allows you to record and simultaneously share video. It works on Acers, Blackberries, iPhones and Dell Streak.

    I haven’t had to use it, but it’s there, just in case.

  7. #7 |  notsure | 

    why is it that every time I visit this site my blood starts to boil?

  8. #8 |  nobody | 

    This is the best part –

    Back in April Philadelphia released an anti-corruption iPhone app intended to allow people to report evidence of corruption with audio, video and geolocation tools.


  9. #9 |  Dave Krueger | 

    So, what’s that theory about “a few bad apples” again?

  10. #10 |  Kristen | 

    Back in April Philadelphia released an anti-corruption iPhone app intended to allow people to report evidence of corruption with audio, video and geolocation tools.

    That’s just a way for them to collect data on who they need to SWAT-raid, puppycide and beat up next.

  11. #11 |  MassHole | 

    I used to think that I would like to visit Philly as it’s the only major east coast city I haven’t checked out. Until they clean up their criminal syndicate posing as a police force, I have no interest.

  12. #12 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Although cameras are new, the police have been routinely beating the shit out of people (like the gang of thugs they are) for decades…I mean centuries.

    Failure to prosecute these cops is (IMO) the same as the state declaring war on citizens.

  13. #13 |  Mike T | 

    Until they clean up their criminal syndicate posing as a police force, I have no interest.

    You’re slandering the criminal element by association. A Hong Kong triad-run private security force contracted to the city would treat the public better than these barbarians.

  14. #14 |  Charlie O | 

    The full article at Philly.com says something about cops charging the videographers with “impeding an investigation.” What exactly are they investigating by slamming Tamara Medley’s head into the hood of the car? The tensile strength of the steel of a Crown Vic? “hey this spot’s good”, “so’s this one”, “hey, try over here.”

  15. #15 |  Highway | 

    jb asked “What can we do about this?” And I’m starting to think that there really isn’t much we *can* do, besides keep trying to get someone’s attention, and hope it catches on somewhere. But more and more, I’m buying into CyniCAl’s view that when the state exists, the state just doesn’t care to rein in its force against people that can’t project force back at it.

    This stuff happens *again and again and again*. It’s prevalent enough now that I haven’t heard a ‘few bad apples’ argument in quite a while. I think it’s pretty evident that there are two kinds of police force: ones where there’s no trouble like this at all, and whole forces where the “whole barrel” is spoiled. And where those exist, the politicians aren’t interested in cleaning it up, the police officials aren’t interested in cleaning it up. Because there’s nobody that’s going to hold them accountable. And even if you tried to have the Feds investigate or prosecute, that’s just ‘trying to tell us what to do’, and gets backlash support for the thugs.

    Local politicians in those areas won’t stand up against the police, because the pols rely on them for ‘protection’. They’re the mob with nice blue or black uniforms, rather than tailored suits. And anyone who runs against the police gets tarred with the ‘soft on crime’ label and can’t win, because a lot of these places with bad cops are pretty poor on the crime front as well. And that’s to be expected, because when you have the cops committing crimes, why should anyone else walk the straight and narrow?

  16. #16 |  vinnie | 

    Sounds like the cops were committing a violent felony. You can use deadly force to stop those. Just sayin’

  17. #17 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I think your title is wrong. I don’t think the problem has anything to do with ignorance of the law. Being ignorant of the law doesn’t make you a fucking testosterone fueled gorilla.

    Don’t we hear stories all the time about how the government in Mexico can’t (or won’t) rein in the corrupt cops down there because the bad cops outnumber the good cops? I think that’s basically where we’re at in the U.S. If you’re a politician (governor, mayor, city councilman, district attorney, etc), do really want to make enemies out of the cops?

  18. #18 |  Roho | 

    Look, it’s not that hard people. Don’t record the police. Don’t look at the police with anything other than the proper, submissive gaze. Don’t deny police access to search anything they want. Don’t speak to the police unless spoken to. Start and end every sentence with ‘sir’. Don’t move. Don’t assert your rights. Don’t carry a firearm, even if licensed. Don’t carry anything that looks like a firearm. Don’t carry anything that fits in your hand, as this is a known characteristic of firearms. Don’t keep a dog. Don’t live in a house with an address similar to any other address (similar meaning: same street name, and/or a number within 100 numbers of another address in the county). Don’t engage in suspicious activities such as speaking with other people, receiving mail, or waiting for public transportation.

    When people follow these simple, common-sense rules, studies show there’s a nearly 30% chance that their interactions with the police won’t end with their property destroyed, pets killed, and their bodies broken.

  19. #19 |  Si Eritas | 

    Vinnie, that’s what I was just thinking. However, your life will be destroyed for a very long time if you do react that way. The state will make the legal proceedings very miserable for you. I conceal carry in my home state, and I often think that if the need to defend myself ever arises, there’s a fairly decent chance I’ll be defending myself from unlawful aggression by a police officer.

  20. #20 |  Deoxy | 

    Eventually, this will lead to dead cops. Getting to that point will do tremendous social damage of several kinds, the most obvious being the complete lack of respect for civil authority (even when properly used).

    And just for that added bit of pessimism, there’s a good chance that the cops that end up dead will include several of those least deserving of it.

  21. #21 |  Mannie | 

    #16 | vinnie | September 6th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Sounds like the cops were committing a violent felony. You can use deadly force to stop those …

    … once

  22. #22 |  Mannie | 

    #19 | Deoxy | September 6th, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    And just for that added bit of pessimism, there’s a good chance that the cops that end up dead will include several of those least deserving of it.

    Yep. Murphy Rules

  23. #23 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “Don’t we hear stories all the time about how the government in Mexico can’t (or won’t) rein in the corrupt cops down there because the bad cops outnumber the good cops?”

    Well, true, maybe, but down in Mexico they would just drive you to the ATM
    at gunpoint and force to you take out your gringo money for them; whereas in the USA the cops would delete evidence, tase you, round up the dopiest, most obsequious jurors they could find, get the judge to exclude evidence, etc ….it’s like they still believe they’re the good guys.

  24. #24 |  Woog | 


    It starts with taking responsibility for yourself. Once a person is responsibly providing for his (or her) own safety and security, such a person is no longer dependent upon police.

    Further, spreading facts that show that police are not above the law will help provide a support base among other individuals so that when illegal actions are taken by cops, there is a greater chance of there being enough informed individuals to put a stop to the crime rather than just be among the disapproving bystanders.

    Finally, sharing information about the nature of law in this country will be among the last steps necessary to stop this war on private individuals. Marbury vs Madison predates the recognition found in Norton vs Shelby regarding unConstitutional laws, but Norton is concise and crystal clear:

    “An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office; it is, in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed.”

    Once this fact is grasped, then it is only a short step to recognition of a principle that, once understood by a significant number of private individuals, will do much to stop almost all these assaults on private persons: Bad Elk vs United States. In summary, it was found to be completely lawful for a person subject to an attempted illegal arrest to use force to resist the illegal arrest, lethal force in this case, even though the arresting policeman was killed.

    Seems that the primary reason a lot of bad cops act the way they do is because they have been functionally above the law. Take that away and sanity should return.

  25. #25 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    I’ve emailed the article to NPR– my local Philly station at talkback@whyy.org.
    They may have heard about it already since the article is from a Philadelphia newspaper, but an expression of interest might help.

    I recommend prodding news sources to cover this. It may help and it can’t hurt.

  26. #26 |  Highway | 

    From the usually over-incendiary TheNewspaper – Traffic Stop does not justify Home Entry.


    “Tenth Circuit US Court of Appeals rules a police officer cannot enter a home over a minor traffic violation.”

    Even better, you had a kid who had a ‘taillight out’ 3 blocks from home, and instead of stopping immediately, drove home and ran inside the house. Cop follows in pursuit, calls for backup, two other officers arrive, and then kick on the door, and when the kid’s parents opened the door and ask about a warrant, one cop pepper sprays them and everyone else inside, and proceed to bust up the house and arrest just about everyone.

    Ruling is there were no exigent circumstances, and no qualified immunity for the officers since they violated the 4th amendment.

    One for the good guys… I guess.

  27. #27 |  varmintito | 

    I don’t think the war on cameras is a Philly thing, I think it is an ingrained aspect of cop culture that is plainly illegal and unconstitutional, but will not be relinquished without a fight. I hope and suspect that the situation will hit critical mass, and citizen recording will eventually become an accepted part of the landscape.

  28. #28 |  Dante | 

    Yet another example of why We The People should never, ever trust the police. Better yet, We The People should shun them.

    Don’t socialize with them. Don’t talk to them unless ordered to. Don’t let your kids play with their kids. Don’t go to their parties (if invited). Don’t sit near them in church. Don’t invite them to neighborhood gatherings. In short, make them realize they have crossed the line that seperates “Us” from “Them”. We the People of the United States of America are “Us”, and the cops are “Them”. Just like the terrorists.

  29. #29 |  CyniCAl | 

    Lost in all of this is that unless you’re black, you probably don’t have much to fear from Philadelphia’s Gestapo.

  30. #30 |  JdL | 

    “What can we do about this?”

    1. Get our own heads straight, as necessary. There can be a lot of conflicting cobwebs in the brain, and it takes work to clear them out and arrive at a self-consistent philosophy.

    2. Spread the word. When a critical mass of understanding is reached, things will change.

    3. Be prepared for a situation in which we are called upon to record. That means carrying a recording device (cell phone, camera with video capability, etc.) and pulling it out and using it when necessary. AND, staring down any cop who tries to get us to delete a recording “voluntarily” to avoid further trouble.

  31. #31 |  croaker | 

    @20 @22 If they’re standing around with a thumb up their ass while their partner goes medieval on a photographer, then they are just as culpable and I will not mourn their passing.

    @27 One day soon, one of these videos (streamed to YouTube via Qik) will end with the miscreant in uniform having his grey matter scattered to the four winds. On that day I will toast the unseen patriot.

    @28 What’s the difference between a police department and a street gang? Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

  32. #32 |  sigh | 

    “This won’t change until courts recognize the right of citizens to protect themselves from criminals, regardless of whether they are private or under the employ of government.”

    And that’s not going to happen when the authorities tell us that we have no right to resist unlawful arrest. Cops want to beat the crap out of you? They’re not “beating” you, they’re “arresting” you, and you’re “resisting”.

    Staring them down when confronted about recording isn’t the answer; that’s a fight your going to lose. You need to not get caught in the first place, escape with the video, and plaster it all over the place.

  33. #33 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    Pouring soda on them, huh? Is that procedure?

  34. #34 |  Sindawe | 

    @24 – Woog: There is one facet of life in which people are still dependent on police. Report writting. Car get smashed by the local Chav who is playing the snow after a night of hitting the pipe/bottle/bong? You need the almighty police report for the Insurance company to settle up. House get broken into while at work and the flat screen stolen? Again you need the police report for the Insurance company to make you (partially) whole for the loss.

    Wish that there was another option, a “Fair Witness” perhaps. But if wishes were horses….

    @28 – Dante: Too true. Anymore that looks to be the most reasonable course of action for anybody in a costume that sports a badge.

  35. #35 |  fatsteve | 

    data and files can easily be undeleted. Nothing is gone…

  36. #36 |  JOR | 

    “Getting to that point will do tremendous social damage of several kinds, the most obvious being the complete lack of respect for civil authority (even when properly used).”

    Respect for civil authority (in the modern sense) is the primary cause of these sorts of problems, and needs to go.

    Societies have gotten by just fine without cops in the past. They’ll be fine without them in the future. People often wax paranoid about the dangers of vigilante justice, but truth is, vigilantes (the law enforcement mechanism of the vast majority of societies that have existed) have historically been better about things like due process and not abusing suspects (or, hell, non-suspects) than professional minders with legal immunity. Where vigilante-run legal systems have been worse than what we have tended to have more to do with the content of the laws being enforced than the law enforcement mechanism, so it’s not really something that can be pinned on the difference in enforcement mechanisms.

  37. #37 |  Mike T | 


    Technically, that’s not vigilante justice. What most societies had was a legal system with no professional law enforcement. England had the sheriffs, but no full time police force beyond that aside from whatever armed men were retained by the local nobility.

    Your point, however, stands aside from that. What we need today is to break the monopoly on law enforcement. A local PI should have the same arrest authority as a local police officer. Ideally, local police would have to go through the sheriff, not their own authority, to bring people to a prosecutor.

    Privatizing local law enforcement should be one of the top priorities of conservatives and libertarians. The only positions that should be staffed full time should be the sheriff’s office, highway patrol and border guards.

  38. #38 |  Mike T | 

    On a sociological level, this is a perfect example of why feminists should be wary of the demise of the old patriarchy. No thug-cop in his right mind would have done this “way back when” because the sight of a woman getting her head bashed in over a police cruiser would have given any self-respecting male witness a cultural license to kill.

  39. #39 |  AlgerHiss | 

    #28….Yes indeed.

    Until we make these people very uncomfortable having these jobs, they’ll continue to sleep well at night.

    If they come home each night, and the spouse and kids ask why everyone hates them, maybe they’ll change.

    But then again, maybe they won’t.

  40. #40 |  demize! | 

    Im sorry, there is a naivete present that if just more of these acts of sheer aggressive brutality were to become public than…. What? The elite that control the levers of power have a mechnism operative that allows and encourages this attitude and behavior by cops. I talk of the alchemy that occurs when a uniform and power are provided to an individual. It turns base metals into shit. But they are the most base metals to begin with, they are attracted to the magnet of power and license. They are just the edge of the sword, the most obvious display of the mentality of the state itself.

  41. #41 |  demize! | 

    #38 Im no fan of “feminism” per se, or any othet nationalism for that matter but your premise and conclusion are in error. Bullies, thugs, sociopaths have never avoided brutalizing, women or children or puppies or anyone else because of some ethical stricture. They have always, as they do know rationalize the behavior. Children were thrashed by birch, women were put in stocks. There was no golden age of the police or thier equivalent being contained by gallantry or some archaic notion of ‘patriarchy’. Any system that has authoritarianism at its root has the potential for cruelty. It is given or taken at the whim of the patriarch. That violence is implicit, it may be made explicit at any time or not. See what Im saying?

  42. #42 |  Woog | 


    True, but to a lesser extent than it seems is suggested. Taking basic precautions can greatly lessen the exposure to such events (defensive driving rather than just hugging bumpers; hardening your house with motion lights, decent windows and entryways, not having your big screen visible from your front window, perhaps getting a dog or two), which in turn lessens any chance of interacting with law enforcement.

    Further, such interactions are not necessarily a dependency. When most people think of police, they think of robber-catching, murder-stopping, scumbag-cuffing activities. Those are precisely the activities which cops are least capable of performing to most folks’ expectations, usually because the average person has had no or little interaction with law enforcement at all. The responsible individual at or very near the crime scene is best suited for such defensive activity.

  43. #43 |  Screw Your Rights *BAM* *POW* *HEADSLAM* « The Blog For Truth, Justice, & The Josh Way | 

    […] the shit out of people.  Radley Balko links to the depressing story. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  44. #44 |  Andrew Roth | 

    As a former resident of Philadelphia, I find these cases particularly horrific. That said, I’m not sure that they reflect so much on the Philadelphia PD as a whole as on West Philly cops (both PPD and SEPTA). These cases are not the only ones I’ve heard of indicating that Philly cops have unilaterally decided that procedural rules don’t apply west of 40th and Market.

  45. #45 |  Cobaco | 

    #9 | Dave Krueger | September 6th, 2011 at 1:03 pm
    So, what’s that theory about “a few bad apples” again?

    Well that saying goes on with ‘spoiles the bunch’, and that’s exactly what we’re seeeing. To much bad apples left alone, now the whole bunch is spoiled.

  46. #46 |  melonie hurling | 

    They say what happen in London could never happen here, but that’s what they say! Read on

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  48. #48 |  twinkle toes | 

    i’ve seen some of the most violent beatings cops can do i watch some cops in south philly beat a man to death .me as a health worker yelled you bet not hit him in the face wit the bat or the bridge of his nose can get logged into his brain .well damn it i was true when i came back home that night only to find out by that mans family that they killed him.where is the justice like the cops are suppose to protect us from being killed they not suppose to take advantage like that ,if they wasnt in that harm i why were they were more aggressive !people take advantage of the law even cops tp but they do still have good cops out there so dont give up hopeson the law to much but also fight for what you believe in the right legal matter cuz eventually justice will provell