Man says he was wrongfully arrested after filming on public streets

FILM16Matthew Haley was filming from a public sidewalk at the corner of 4th Street and Walton Way when he says he was first approached by deputies.

Cellphone video shows the encounter with deputies that put 28-year old Haley in jail.

“Sir, I’m in public. I’m not committing any type of crime,” Haley says to deputies as they approach and ask for his ID several times.

He says after he refused, the phone was taken from him, but it still managed to record sound from the arrest.

You can hear Haley ask, “What am I being arrested for?”

The deputies reply, “We’re sheriff’s deputies, and we were conducting an investigation, and you refused to give your ID. That’s against the law here.”

That was the night of June 2. Cameras were rolling again when deputies approached him as News 12 was interviewing Haley today.

This is the how the beginning of that conversation went:
Deputies: “Who y’all with?”
News 12’s Christie Ethridge: “I’m with Channel 12.”
Deputies: “Who are you with?”
Haley: “I’m just an independent individual.”
Deputies: “You got any ID on you?”
Haley: “Am I committing some type of crime?”
Deputies: “No sir, you’re videotaping the Sheriff’s Office and the jail, so we just want to find out what you’re doing.”

What are you doing? It’s a simple question with a simple answer, but since Haley was on public property, News 12 went digging to find out if he had to answer.

“The average person is not aware that the police are free to come up to a person with absolutely no suspicion of criminal activity and ask questions, however they cannot detain you, and you are free to leave,” attorney Sarah Blake said.

In this case, while deputies agree there’s nothing unlawful about filming public buildings on a public sidewalk, they say it’s more about safety. After tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook shooting, they say it’s their job to investigate anything that comes across as suspicious.

“We look at the what if. We look at the worst-case scenario and try to prepare for the worst-case scenario. We don’t know if he’s trying to find an escape for someone. These are things we have to look at,” said Richmond County Sgt. Michael McDaniel.

Further conversation from when deputies approached Haley on Thursday sounded like this:
Haley: “Sir, may I ask you a question?”
Deputies: “Absolutely.”
Haley: “Is it against the law to video tape public buildings?”
Deputies: “No sir, it’s not, but it does draw suspicion.”

“I feel like I was harassed or violated for engaging a lawful activity,” Haley told News 12. “I spent that night in a holding cell at 401 for probably about 11 hours.”

“Once confronted by deputies, when you refuse to cooperate and answer any questions, you’re basically asking to be locked up,” McDaniel said.

Haley is a self-proclaimed independent journalist. He says he was just trying to film traffic at the intersection of 4th Street and Walton Way and show how many violations occur right outside the Sheriff’s Office.

News 12 spoke with three different attorneys today to get some answers, and each one said it’s a case-by-case basis all to be decided by the courts.