crimesider

N.C. cop who told Uber driver not to record gets demoted

A screengrab from a confrontation caught on camera with a North Carolina police sergeant and an Uber driver, who happens to be a defense attorney. 

Jesse Bright/YouTube

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- When police stopped an Uber driver to detain his passenger last month, he immediately turned on his cellphone and started recording.

The officers demanded he turn off his phone, citing a reportedly non-existent state law, but what they didn’t know was that Jesse Bright was a defense attorney – moonlighting as a driver to make some extra cash in an effort to pay off his student loans. Now, one of the officers involved has been demoted.

Local news outlets report Wilmington police Sgt. Kenneth Becker was demoted and hit with a 5 percent pay cut. Becker has been with the department 17 years.

Police spokeswoman Linda Thompson told The Associated Press an investigation of the incident was closed Thursday. She could not say whether the demotion was directly related to the investigation.

In the first of three videos Bright posted of the February 26 confrontation, one of the officers tells Bright that the passenger was caught leaving a drug house. He also asks Bright if he had anything in the car that he needed “to be concerned about” and if he would mind if he looked.

“I do mind because I haven’t done anything. I mind,” Bright says in the video.

When Becker ordered Bright to stop recording because of a new law, Bright knew better.

“I’ll keep recording, thank you. It’s my right,” Bright is heard saying in the second video. “You’re a police officer on duty. I can record you.”

He then threatened him with jail and police began to search the car. Again, Bright refused to allow his car to be searched.

“I know the law, I’m an attorney so I would hope I know the law,” he tells the officer.

“And an Uber driver?” Becker asked incredulously, refusing to see the attorney’s bar card when offered.

Then a K9 unit was called and Bright was removed from the car. Bright again tells police that he didn’t consent to being searched in the third video. 

After a search, police let Bright go - without an apology, he tells CBS News. 

After Bright went public with the incident, the police department released a statement saying they were launching an internal investigation. The department also addressed what it called a “crucial” question: “Taking photographs and videos of people that are in plain sight including the police is your legal right,” Chief Ralph Evangelous said in the statement.

“As a matter of fact, we invite citizens to do so when they believe it is necessary.” 

A copy of the statement was to be distributed every officer in the department.

“I’d like everyone to film the police during interactions with them,” Bright wrote in an email to Crimesider. “It keeps both parties honest.”