Members of a pro-gun, anti-police group were arrested over the weekend in Texas after officers said the activists interfered with a traffic stop.
Officers arrested three people who were among about 20 people videotaping the traffic stop late Saturday by Arlington police, who said they aren’t bothered when citizens record their actions – which is both legal and commonplace.
But they said some activists, including two members of Open Carry Tarrant County, got in their way and prevented them from carrying out their duties.
“If an officer says, ‘Can you step back a little bit?’ then you probably need to step back at that point,” said Sgt. Jeffrey Houston, of Arlington police. “As a whole, we go out of our way not to take enforcement action on these groups, but when it becomes interference with the officers, they can`t do their job. We had to take action.”
However, activist Kory Watkins said police arrested him, his wife, and another man because he became upset during the encounter.
“Being upset isn’t illegal,” said Watkins, a coordinator with the open carry firearms group. “I didn’t hurt anybody. There was a car coming at my wife. Any normal husband would get angry at that. Even if somebody is yelling at a police officer — doesn’t matter if they’re yelling rainbows and butterflies, or if they’re yelling F-bombs and S-bombs. That’s not illegal.”
Watkins and his wife, Janie Lucero (pictured above), were each charged with interference with public duties and obstructing a highway. Joseph Tye was charged with faces charges of interference with public duties and refusing to identify himself.
All three are active in the Texas Cop Watch and Tarrant County Peaceful Streets groups, which record police activity to hold officers accountable.
Police confiscated their recording devices after the arrests, but Houston said they would all be returned.
Officers also confiscated a black-powder revolver and a knife from Watkins, but they will also return those weapons.
Houston declined to say how they interfered with officers, saying the investigation remained open, but he denied that a police cruiser drove close to Lucero.
“They were on the sidewalk while an officer turned in with his lights going, and while he momentarily sounded the siren, Watkins did get upset, but no one was ever in any danger,” Houston said.
Watkins and Open Carry Tarrant County sued the city of Arlington in May, claiming a sidewalk ordinance violated their First Amendment rights.
Group members claimed they were prevented from handing out literature and pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution to passing motorists while openly carrying firearms during a demonstration.
A judge in July granted a temporary restraining order, which blocked the ordinance.
Arlington police have twice invited group members to meet with them, but Houston said the group refused the first invitation and ignored the second.
“(The) response we got the first time is that they would not meet with us and by policy they don’t cooperate or get along with law enforcement,” Houston said. “The second time we didn’t receive a response at all, and it’s just a dialogue about how they can come and accomplish their mission of recording officers and hold us accountable.”
A group member who identifies himself as Jacob Liberty explained the group’s refusal in a Facebook post.
“We made the strategic decision to focus on direct action tactics as opposed to political action for two primary reasons,” Liberty posted. “First, we felt that we could best influence culture by working directly within communities, as opposed to trying to fix or reform the system (which could include working with law enforcement). Second, we felt that there were plenty of organizations that were already working with law enforcement to try to reduce the incidence of police abuse and criminality, and that replicating their efforts would be a poor use of resources.”
The group also protests regulatory checkpoints for driver’s licenses and proof of auto insurance, comparing the practice to “Nazi Germany.”
The statewide Open Carry Texas gun-rights group distanced itself in May from the Tarrant County chapter in May, after police after armed members frightened employees and customers at fast-food restaurants twice in a matter of weeks.
Officers said terrified workers at a Jack in the Box hid in a freezer after the activists arrived carrying rifles and other firearms.
The National Rifle Association called on Open Carry Texas to stop frightening people with their firearms displays, which the gun-rights group said “crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness.”
The NRA later apologized, saying the criticism was merely the personal view of an individual staffer.
Watch video from the incident posted online by Kory Watkins:
[Image via Facebook]