Eileen Aquino and her husband were pulled over by the officer for driving without license plates. At one point during the encounter, the officer discovered Aquino's husband was on probation and had a criminal record, including an arson conviction and previous arrest for a loaded firearm.
According to the West Covina Police Department, the officer decided to "investigate further" by asking the couple to step out of the vehicle.
Around this time, Aquino began recording, but the officer told her to stop.
"I'm telling you to put the phone on the dash," the officer said in the video.
"I'm not putting the phone down," she said.
"If you do not cooperate I will take the phone out of your hands," the officer said.
"You have no right to do that," Aquino said.
That's when the officer lunged across the passenger seat, making a grab at the phone.
The recording stops after that, and Aquino and her husband were cuffed and arrested, then subsequently released.
Aquino made some allegations that the officer roughed her and her husband up, but police dash cam video clearly contradicted that, showing the officer cuff each of them without any physical altercation.
The police department later told NBC Los Angeles that the cop told Aquino to put down the phone "for officer safety reasons."
This incident seems to demarcate a line that police and the public have not properly grappled with. Several appeals courts have established that it is illegal for an officer to stop you from recording — but the decisions appear to only address bystanders. In Aquino's case, she was the subject of the officer's investigation, not a member of the public who happened to be standing nearby.
If an officer intended to arrest her, he could argue that her holding up the phone obstructed his ability to put handcuffs on her. That said, it appears he couldn't argue that in this case because when he grabbed the phone she was still in the car.
Hopefully police will learn from this episode and update policy accordingly.
Banner image credit: Pixabay, JESHOOTS