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Sunday, April 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Idaho police defend arrest of man filming public building

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — An eastern Idaho police chief is defending the arrest of a man who was videotaping the outside of a public building even though the officer who made the arrest cited a law that doesn't exist.

Pocatello Police Chief Scott Marchand has refused to release the name of the officer involved in the incident but said during a press conference Monday that the officer handled the situation well.

"He did what he thought was right," Marchand said about the officer. "He made a decision and he was able to articulate what he did in a report. So yeah, I think he handled it all right."

Sean Johnson of Chubbuck was videotaping the exterior of the FBI building in Pocatello last month when the officer approached and asked for identification, accusing Johnson of "public voyeurism." Idaho's voyeurism law prohibits taking secret pictures or videos of people where they have the expectation of privacy, but there is no "public voyeurism" law barring people from filming events happening in public while on public grounds. Rather, photographing and videotaping things that are plainly visible from public spaces is protected under the First Amendment.

Johnson was arrested and later charged with misdemeanor resisting or obstructing officers. Marchand said he believes that in some circumstances, officers can arrest someone for refusing to provide identification such as a driver's license.

While Idaho does require motorists who are pulled over to provide identification when asked, there is not a law requiring pedestrians or others to produce identification upon demand.

The police department faced widespread criticism after Johnson uploaded the video of the June 12 incident to YouTube. Johnson's lawyer Curtis Smith did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press and Johnson could not be reached.

In the video, the officer said he was detaining Johnson for an investigation of "public voyeurism." Marchand acknowledged Monday that that crime doesn't exist, and said the officer "misspoke."

Marchand said based on "other circumstances" at the scene, the misdemeanor charge of resisting or obstructing against Johnson will not be dropped and he will be prosecuted.

Johnson's lawyer questioned the validity of the charge, calling it a catch-all that police often use when suspects fail to cooperate.

"I don't think they have the right to charge my client under these circumstances," Smith told the Idaho State Journal. "I know that we are at a point where law enforcement is on edge, doing things based on gut feelings of well, we don't want to have somebody out canvassing a building, especially a federal building. But the reality is that citizens in the United States have the rights to be citizens. And if they want to go and film a federal building, I don't have a problem with that."

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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