Deputy Blocks Video Recording of Arrest, Reinforcing the Need for Body Cams
Last updated 1/30/2023 at 4:23pm
Over the course of my 13-year career as a local breaking news reporter and investigative journalist, I have always professed my support of law enforcement. I was raised to be a law-abiding citizen, respect Old Glory, and even served my country in the U.S. Navy. My mother taught me to never lie and help others whenever possible. As naïve as it may sound, I was raised to trust all law enforcement officers, the judicial system, and thought that at the very least, I would always have the right to exercise free speech, without risk of persecution or penalty - but was I wrong. I won't digress into writing a book (again). You can watch my documentary, Behind the Gate, for details into that nightmare.
The question of whether law enforcement officers should wear body cameras or not is no longer up for debate. The technology is here, it's affordable, it reduces frivolous lawsuits, protects both the officer and the citizen, and actually saves lives. How does it save lives? Just like an openly carried firearm deters criminals from victimizing the bearer, body cameras let criminals know that their every action is being recorded. If they can't get away with a violent attack on a law enforcement officer, then they probably won't commit the crime. If they do, they will be identified and held accountable.
Cameras are everywhere and they are the most critical piece of exculpatory or inculpatory evidence used in any criminal and civil court case. So, why hasn't every agency made it a mandatory piece of equipment and what are the reasons? When someone has the power to take away your freedoms or your life, you want to make sure they have good judgement, don't have a personal agenda, and are pure of heart. But wait, has there been a discovery that turns humans into perfect robots? No, we are human. We make mistakes, we get angry, we have emotions, we are passionate, have likes, dislikes, and yes, we sometimes intentionally harm others. Having a badge and gun doesn't somehow remove the human element and it shouldn't exclude them from being held accountable for their actions.
Some chief law enforcement officers who oppose body cams say, "Just trust law enforcement," and suddenly you hear the national anthem playing in the background and anyone who disagrees is cop hater and anti-American. But what is really anti-American is when a chief law enforcement officer (elected official) doesn't comply with the will of the people, isn't transparent or accountable, and uses the great power afforded them to silence dissenters and rule like a dictator. This is what is happening in Hernando County, Florida.
According to a 2021 FDLE report, out of the 300 Police Departments and Sheriff's Offices in Florida, 170 have implemented body cams, and that's not including the agencies that were added over the last year. Most of the agencies that haven't are researching and developing plans to implement them in the near future. There are a few chief law enforcement officers, like Sheriff Al Nienhuis, who refuse to even consider body cams. Nienhuis's excuses have changed over the years to accommodate whichever narrative fits the moment. Despite having a sufficient budget and millions in surplus, Nienhuis often says there just isn't enough money to pay for them. When that argument fails, he says, "I would rather give our deputies a raise." When that doesn't work, he uses privacy as an excuse. "I don't want to reveal the identities of domestic violence victims," says Nienhuis. Most recently, Nienhuis made the most absurd excuse of all, "I don't want video of one of my deputies being shot and killed circulating on social media." None of those excuses pass the smell test with a Sheriff who has a history of hiding millions in detention facility funds, discriminating against female deputies, and orchestrating "hits" against reporters who write critical articles about his performance. Again, watch my documentary for those details. And making things worse, Nienhuis is currently being sued for approving the termination of a deputy who refused to participate in an agency-sanctioned sex party.
Let me be very clear, I'm not part of the woke media mob that spreads misinformation about police brutality and racism being a systemic problem with law enforcement. That false narrative causes more division and harm than good. If you're a cop hater because of what you've seen on mainstream media, then you really need the commonsense system update 2.0. However, I'm not saying bad cops don't exist, and that's exactly why we need body cams on every law enforcement officer in the country. If a mistake is made, it's caught on camera and a fair and appropriate action can be taken. Maybe they need more training or a reprimand or maybe they need to be terminated. On the flip side, what if a suspect is falsely claiming that an officer beat them, sexually assaulted them, or planted drugs on them? Whatever the case, video is the great equalizer, and it doesn't lie.
Over the course of my career, I have developed a mutual respect with law enforcement in Hernando County and other areas that I cover. They know I'm one of the few reporters who isn't lying in wait to twist an arrest into a racially motivated brutal attack against a minority. Again, let me reiterate, I know that happens but it's less often than purported by fake news media outlets. Don't rely on CNN or social media to gather your facts. The majority of deputies don't mind my presence and even consider me an ally. I've even made quite a few friends over the years, although they like to keep that hush hush – for obvious reasons. And then there are my vast sources. We won't go into that.
Last week, I was in the area of Northcliffe Blvd and Mariner Blvd, when a report of a retail theft came across the radio. I happened to be close by, so I responded to the area of Tillery Road and Portillo Road, where dispatchers said the suspect had just been tackled and was in custody. Like I have done for 13 years, I pulled my clearly marked news vehicle (Wrapped Red Dodge Challenger) about 50 yards away and began video recording the scene. Click to Watch Video. Now this isn't the crime of the century, but my motto is "shoot first, decide if it's newsworthy later." As soon as I arrived, Deputy Andrew Brunelle said something to Deputy Michael Renczkowski and proceeds to reposition his patrol car, so that I could not see the suspect. Renczkowski is also seen moving in front of the suspect, who is sitting in the backseat of a patrol car. Now, this may not seem like a big deal, and it really isn't, as it pertains to that specific case, but what if it was something newsworthy? What were they trying to hide? What if I was CNN or a "cop watcher" or "police auditor," who wanted to capture cops at their worst and twist a story into what it's not? I don't think Renczkowski or Brunelle did anything wrong to the suspect, but the optics of their actions could be perceived differently by someone who isn't familiar with police work.
So, what was their motive? Well, you'll definitely have to watch my documentary for that answer. But in short, Renczkowski is part of Nienhuis's "hit squad," who are called upon when Nienhuis needs to "discourage" outspoken critical citizens, orchestrate false arrests, strong-arm citizens who step out of line, or launch social media campaigns to discredit uncooperative businesses. The team also includes Detective Shawn Galarza, Lt. Scott Reak, Major Phil Lakin, Public Information Officer Denise Moloney, and a few others. I don't think Brunelle is part of the team yet but he's certainly learning the tricks of the trade. These are the type of law enforcement officers who will plant drugs on you or worse, and they are the reason Nienhuis cannot – will not – implement body cams in Hernando County.