A self-styled citizen journalist who filmed a physical confrontation with Morro Bay Police Chief Greg Allen and another officer says he is considering taking legal action against the city.
VIRAL VIDEO Santa Maria resident Nathaniel Thomas said his right to film in public was violated after a physical confrontation with Morro Bay Police Chief Gregory Allen and Officer Greg Gruitch on Feb. 6.
VIDEO BY NATHANIEL THOMAS VIA YOUTUBE.COM
Nathanial Thomas, a Santa Maria man who posts videos of himself filming at various government facilities, says he believes the incident, which ended with Allen and Morro Bay Police Officer Greg Gruitch forcing him to the ground and handcuffing him, violated his rights.
"This was obviously a physical assault," Thomas told New Times. "I have legal representation already. We are going to file a claim against the city. We are possibly going to pursue criminal charges as well."
Thomas, who films at police stations, military installations, and other government buildings in what he and others call "First Amendment audits," said he was confronted by Allen and Gruitch after filming both outside and inside the Morro Bay police station on Feb. 6. A short clip of the confrontation, filmed by Thomas, begins with Gruitch stating that Thomas committed a misdemeanor crime by filming inside the police station, though he cannot cite a specific penal code. Thomas responds that he's filming in the lobby, which is a public space.
After Gruitch asks for Thomas' name and identification, Thomas refuses. The video ends with the two officers grabbing Thomas and forcing him to the ground after he refuses to identify himself and asks to speak to his lawyer.
"I hit my head on the concrete," Thomas said. "I saw stars."
Thomas said he was handcuffed and placed in a police car for about 45 minutes to an hour before he was released without any charges.
According to a statement from the Morro Bay Police Department, Allen detained Thomas out of a concern for officer safety, stating he had "an immediate concern for the safety of police employees based on his personal knowledge of past attacks on stations."
In Thomas' video, Allen raises concerns that Thomas was filming around the back of the station, where officers enter and exit the facility.
"I have officer safety concerns for my officers," Allen said in the video. "In a lot of towns we have people all the time, and we're not accusing you of this, but [they] may not have the best intentions for our officers."
The department's statement said that Thomas was released after an investigation into his identity and actions "revealed he posed no public safety threat." Allen did not respond to New Times' request for comment.
Despite Allen's concerns, Thomas said he still had a right to film the station, noting that he only filmed the station from public areas.
"They were obviously ignorant of the law," he said. "They are going to be held accountable for that." Δ