Is former Army Ranger Antonio Buehler a provocateur or a concerned citizen fighting perceived abuses by the Austin Police Department?
That depends on who you ask.
Buehler is facing charges for resisting arrest and harassing a public servant stemming from a controversial New Year’s Eve DWI arrest. Buehler had a run in with police officers after witnessing two women being arrested for DWI. Cops say Buehler interfered with the arrest. Buehler claims he was protecting the women who were being physically abused by the officers. Buehler and others photographed and recorded video of the arrest. Police have not released the dash cam video of the event. The case has yet to go to a grand jury.
Since then, the war veteran has marshaled a large group of supporters via social media. He has started a organization called the Peaceful Streets Project. He and volunteers take to the streets at night with video cameras in hand, taking videos of police making stops and arrests.
On Saturday, Buehler and a volunteer took video of an arrest outside of the Wendy’s at I-35 and 7th Street. The video shows an officer walking up to Buehler and clearly trying to antagonize Buehler by blinding his camera with a flashlight. He also takes a condescending tone with Buehler.
“I didn’t consider the flashlight a threat. I saw it as a move meant to intimidate and antagonize me,” Buehler said.
The officer is out of line. He had every right to walk up and question Buehler if he thought that he might be involved in whatever the suspect was being stopped for. He also has a duty to make sure his fellow officers are safe while conducting a stop.
But the officer didn’t do that. When Buehler spoke the officer’s name into his camera, the officer raised his flashlight and tried to interfere with his right to record the scene.
“There is a culture issue within the APD where some cops believe that they have the right to toy with or bully around those who dare to exercise their most basic civil liberties,” Buehler said.
Whether or not this is an issue of APD culture is open for debate. What isn’t open for debate is Buehler’s right to record the event. The city and police have set up a system where it is difficult to go anywhere in public without being surveilled by their security cameras. But police can be surveilled with cameras by the public as well.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has said publicly that his officers have to accept that citizens armed with smartphones have the right to take pictures and record them on video while in public. But some of his officers have not received the memo and play directly in Buehler’s hand.
Earlier this year Buehler pulled his camera on Acevedo while he was out on patrol on 6th Street. Buehler tells Acevedo his officers are liars, but Acevedo doesn’t take the bait. He was friendly and professional with Buehler. Acevedo was fully aware that the person behind the camera was one his most fervent critics in the community. The camera didn’t shake him a bit.
Acevedo needs to make sure the rank and file are able to the same thing.