WARREN TWP., Ohio (WYTV) – Criminal act or First Amendment right? That’s the question surrounding a viral video about the Warren Township Police Department posted on YouTube.
The video shows a Saturday morning encounter between YouTuber “NEO Guardian” and Warren Township police. It’s triggered so much outrage, it crashed the police phone system.
In the video, the officer asked the man his name and his purpose for filming the police station. Police detained the man for being on the property while the station was closed and for refusing to identify himself.
NEO Guardian told WKBN that his name is Doug and he’s from Columbiana County. He didn’t want to reveal his last name.
“Basically, it’s to exercise my First Amendment rights,” he said.
Doug said his goal is to expose police wrongdoing. He said he didn’t realize the station was closed, even though his video shows the hours of operation.
“Citizens, when they do something bad, they get in trouble for it and they have to pay for it. A lot of officers do the same thing but they don’t have to pay for it.”
The video is now traveling across the entire country, causing some problems for the Warren Township Police Department.
Chief Don Bishop has received hundreds of calls about it.
“Yesterday we couldn’t make a call out or in, nor could our dispatch. They tied up our lines,” he said.
First Amendment professor and lawyer Mark Goodman said Doug may have misunderstood his rights.
“Once the citizen was told the office was closed, that’s the point which he had a legal obligation to leave.”
According to the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), police have a right to ask for the name, address and age of anyone in a public place in the state.
“I would say always be willing to identify yourself, even those situations where, legally, you may not have to,” Goodman said.
Doug has not been charged with a crime.
Police are concerned about the so-called “First Amendment audits” because they show security details of police stations and information that could be used to hurt officers.