HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A “First Amendment auditor” recently came to Huntsville with the stated goal of testing local law enforcement’s knowledge and application of First Amendment rights.
“Reba” (she declined to be identified, citing safety reasons) is not affiliated with any publication, but said she came to Huntsville after being contacted by a viewer of her YouTube channel.
She published videos of her visit to the Huntsville Police Department’s West Precinct and the Madison County Sheriff’s annex by the Wheeler safety complex.
The videos have more than 66,000 views combined.
“Reba” put herself in odd places. The videos include her behind Huntsville’s West Precinct, right on the edge of a restricted area, and inside various lobbies.
However, she always was on public property.
Missouri School of Journalism Professor Sandy Davidson said Reba’s actions appear to be legal.
“Generally speaking, what is done in public is there for the public to record,” Davidson said.
“I do not think from the videos that I saw that there were any restrictions in place, it was an area that is open to the public.”
At one point in the Madison County Sheriff’s Office Annex video, an investigator asks for her ID.
She refused and ended up walking away.
Criminal Law Attorney Brian White said that action also appeared to be legal.
“She can film what’s in plain view and if that’s the only thing that drew attention to her, then they were not within their rights to ask for an ID,” he said.
However, both Davidson and White said every case is circumstantial.
The Madison County Sheriff’s Office spokesman sent WAFF a statement which reads:
“We are aware of videos depicting interactions with Madison County Sheriff’s Office employees posted to the 51-50 5-0 YouTube site. A senior supervisor is conducting an internal investigation into the videos and the interaction between the employees and the video creator. The supervisor has spoken with the video’s creator and will have a follow up conversation next week. MCSO will not comment further on the ongoing internal investigation pending the outcome and findings.”
Huntsville Police spokesman Lt. Michael Johnson said the department is re-emphasizing first amendment law with its officers, but citizens should be smart.
“Any time you do something that’s unusual or out of the norm, you can only expect that it’s going to draw attention to you, and that’s one of the things we believe [Reba] wanted, she wanted attention she and got it.”