[UPDATE: The trial which was scheduled to begin June 14, 2010 has been postponed. Check our FAQ about the case or the court calendar for further updates as soon as they are available.]
We’ve written previously about the arrest of Phil Mocek at a TSA checkpoint at the airport in Albuquerque last November. Mr. Mocek had a valid ticket on Southwest Airlines (“You are now free to move about the country”), and was attempting to get to his flight. Like the “Freedom Riders” of the 1960s on interstate buses, Mr. Mocek sought to exercise his Federally and Constitutionally-guaranteed right to travel, but was arrested by local police for alleged violations of state and local laws and ordinances.
So far as we can tell, this is the first time someone in the USA has been arrested or charged with a crime for attempting to exercise their right to travel by air without showing ID or answering questions about themselves or their trip, or for photography or audio or video recording at a TSA checkpoint.
Mr. Mocek is now scheduled to go on trial starting June 14th on charges of violating four state and local ordinances carrying a total maximum sentence of 15 months in jail. (The charges could still be dropped, and the trial could be rescheduled. We’ll post an update in this blog and in our FAQ about the case if we learn of any change in the schedule.)
Don’t let the charges fool you. The first statement by the police (on their own live audio recording) was that Mr. Mocek was being arrested, “for being stupid”. So far as we can tell, after reviewing the audio and video recordings made by the police themselves, and released to Mr. Mocek in response to his requests under New Mexico’s laws for access to public records, there is no evidence that Mr. Mocek is guilty of any of the offenses with which he is charged.
(If something like this should happen to you, be aware that police and custodians of public records aren’t always aware of what recordings they may have, of the technical features of their recording and archiving systems, or of the possibility that audio and video archiving systems may generate logs of what recordings are accessed or deleted, when, and by whom. As this recent incident (chronology) in Seattle showed, digital recordings aren’t necessarily “deleted” automatically, and may not be overwritten until long after police assume that they have been deleted. If you are requesting official records of a police encounter, be sure to include a request for any system logs of access, viewing, and/or deletion of the recordings, and be extremely skeptical of any claims that digital recordings are actually “erased” on a fixed schedule, rather than merely flagged as potentially available to be overwritten.)
Based on the available evidence, we are concerned that Mr. Mocek was arrested because he declined to show ID credentials, declined to answer questions about his identity, and/or because he attempted to photograph and record his interactions with the TSA and police – all of which were activities protected by the First Amendment and other laws.
Mr. Mocek’s real offense seems to have been to attempt to exercise his right to travel, as guaranteed by Federal law, the First Amendment, and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
A representative and spokesperson for the Identity Project will be in Albuquerque to observe and report on Mr. Mocek’s trial, to help explain the issues it raises, and to support Mr. Mocek’s rights (1) to travel without showing ID credentials or answering questions from the TSA or police and (2) to photograph and record his interactions with TSA and police officers. Contact us for more information or if you’d like to arrange for an interview or speaker from the Identity Project. (Nothing we say should be taken as legal advice or as representing Mr. Mocek or his attorneys, Nancy Hollander and Molly Schmidt-Nowara.)
You can help by contributing to Mr. Mocek’s defense fund, coming to all or part of the trial (expected to last 2-3 days), helping to publicize the case (our FAQ about the case is also available as a one-sheet flyer in printable PDF format), blogging about the case, or organizing a gathering to discuss this case and the issues it raises. (Contact us if you’d like to arrange for an interview or speaker from the Identity Project. We’re particularly interested in hearing from supporters in the Albuquerque area.) Most importantly, you can stand up for your own rights, and “just say no” to demands for ID.
See our FAQ about State of New Mexico v. Phillip Mocek for more information, latest updates, and links to legal references, the court calendar, and background documents