Jesse Bright isn't just any driver — he's an Uber driver with legal expertise.
And on February 26, Wilmington Police Sergeant Kenneth Becker got a lesson in law when he pulled Bright and a passenger over. As seen in a video Bright posted on social media, Becker asked Bright, who has a law degree, to stop filming him during the traffic stop, but Bright refused.
"Be careful because there is a new law. Turn it off or I'll take you to jail," the officer told Bright.
"What is the law?" Bright asked, requesting clarification.
As Bright knew at the time and as confirmed, there is no such law in the state of North Carolina. Although Becker later tried to explain Bright's lack of familiarity with the law by saying that "they just recently passed it," Bright refused to put down his phone, and rightfully so. Cellphone recordings have become instrumental in documenting police misconduct of late and are key players in the legal battles and national conversations that follow.
After the exchange, the officer then tried to get Bright to step out of the car, but again he refused, asking repeatedly what he was being arrested for. The video then shows the officer saying "you better hope we don't find something your car," before calling in a K-9 unit to search the car.
Once Bright told the officer he was an attorney, the officer sarcastically dismissed him. Little did he know, Bright knew exactly what he was doing. When the cops called the K-9 unit in, the dogs "indicated" there was something inside the car, according to Wilmington Police Department. But Bright, in an email to WECT, had a different story:
I repeatedly asked the Sergeant and the K-9 what the dog's indicator was, to indicate that he smelled narcotics in the vehicle. They refused to tell me. The K-9 lead the dog around my car 1 time, in which the dog did nothing but sniff the vehicle. He didn't seem to make any indication at all towards the vehicle, besides sniffing in the places that the K-9 told him to sniff. After the sniff was done, the Sgt immediately went into my vehicle without my permission, and did a full search, checking all areas of the car, and pulling everything out of the center console and glove box. During the search, I was told I had to let them search my body as well, which they did.
The officers didn't find anything in the car, on Bright or his passenger after completing multiple searches. When the video surfaced, Linda Thomas of the Wilmington Police Department said there was an internal investigation beginning. In addition, Chief Ralph Evangelous responded to the video with the following statement:
Taking photographs and videos of people that are in plain sight including the police is your legal right. As a matter of fact we invite citizens to do so when they believe it is necessary. We believe that public videos help to protect the police as well as our citizens and provide critical information during police and citizen interaction.
Bright encouraged other Americans to study up in order to protect themselves in an interview with The Washington Post.
"You just have to know your rights," he said.
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