Activist filmmaker Barry Cooper charged with impersonating a private investigator
To describe the tale of former Texas drug cop Barry Cooper as “strange” is to make what observers could legitimately call, “an understatement.”
Yet, thanks to actions by his former colleagues in Texas law enforcement, the wild odyssey of America’s top drug war insurgent has just become even more bizarre.
Cooper and his wife Candi recently beat a charge of Making a False Report to a Peace Officer in Odessa, Texas, where in Dec. 2008 they tricked local police to raid a fake marijuana grow operation as part of a reality show pitch.
On Thursday, August 26, just two days after Odessa declined to prosecute the charge, officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety arrested Barry in a SWAT-style operation outside his home in south Austin. He was charged with Operating an Investigations Company Without a License, a Class A misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of one year in prison. Offenses in this category are policed by The Texas Department of Public Safety Private Security Bureau.
“Police approached me with tires screeching, full body armor and guns drawn,” Cooper said Thursday, appearing on the Texas Capitol steps to record a video blog and press statement. “Within minutes I was placed in the back of an unmarked unit and rushed away. I really believed I was going to be shot and it felt more like an abduction than an arrest.”
In all his time creating video content opposed to prohibition, Cooper has, to this reporter’s knowledge, never made himself out to be a private investigator. He likes to use the term “journalist” in describing his work, while other media calls him a “filmmaker” or an “activist.”
Texas law describes a “journalist” as …
[A] person, including a parent, subsidiary, division, or affiliate of a person, who for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain, gathers, compiles, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, investigates, processes, or publishes news or information that is disseminated by a news medium or communication service provider […].
Inasmuch as Cooper’s primary source of income is derived from his Web site and the public distribution of information about police activities, it would seem his business clearly falls under the legal definition of journalism, no matter the positions he ultimately advocates.
Still: “From a law enforcement perspective, I’d want to see [Cooper] prosecuted by any means possible,” a senior Bush administration source recently commented on background to RAW STORY, conferring on Barry’s bizarre story.
All circumstances considered, “by any means possible” certainly seems to be the case here.
“It’s like they think I’m Al Capone and they’ve got me for tax evasion or something,” Cooper told RAW STORY, shortly after being released on a $10,000 bond.
The warrant for Barry’s arrest was signed in Williamson County, where he is facing a separate charge of Making a False Report to a Peace Officer, for a series of so-called “bag drops” he executed, hoping to catch an officer stealing what was made to look like drug money.
He claimed to have done just that, filming an officer in Liberty Hill allegedly disposing of Cooper’s “suspicious package” but keeping the $45 hidden within. After the Texas Rangers said they investigated the case and found no reason to charge the officer with any wrongdoing, Cooper was sued for slander and libel.
On this latest charge, Cooper is appealing to the American Civil Liberties Union for help, suggesting his prosecution under this statute could constitute an attack on independent, citizen-run media. The charge of impersonating a private investigator, he alleges, could be applied to any activist, journalist, filmmaker or blogger who upsets authorities by chronicling police activities.
Cooper believes his prosecution may tie in to the ACLU’s current stable of cases in which citizens were detained or arrested simply for filming police. In recent years, citizen activists have been prosecuted under wiretapping laws after they filmed officers without their knowledge. In these cases, the charges leveled often carry penalties much more severe than what Cooper faces.
“It’s odd the police continue promoting their right to film the general public, but attempt to limit the public’s right to film them,” said Eric Ellison, an activist with the Austin Police Accountability Coalition. “It’s clear that America’s law enforcement is trying to promote an unleveled playing field, which stems from their desire to be held unaccountable. This is the reason the police are continually arresting the Coopers.”
If found guilty on both misdemeanor charges, Cooper faces a maximum of 18 months in prison.