Jan 22 2011

Phil Mocek found “NOT GUILTY” by Albuquerque jury

A six-woman Bernalillo [NM] County Metropolitan Court jury has found Phil Mocek “NOT GUILTY” (video) of all of the charges brought against him following his arrest in November 2009 at the TSA checkpoint at the Albuquerque airport.

We’ll be posting audio recordings and photos of the trial.  The jury returned its verdict Friday evening after about an hour of deliberation, following a two-day trial we attended. (Video of the verdict and excerpts from Mr. Mocek’s reaction; longer audio of Mr. Mocek’s responses to questions in the hallway outside the courtroom immediately after the verdict; complete audio and pohotos of the trial.)

Mr. Mocek did not testify, and the defense rested on Friday without calling any witnesses or presenting any evidence. The jury found that even without rebuttal, the TSA and Albuquerque police had failed to satisfy their burden of proving any of the four charges: concealing his identity, refusing to obey a lawful order (it was never entirely clear whether this was supposed to have been an order to turn off his camera, an order to leave the airport despite having a valid ticket, or an order to show ID, none of which would have been lawful orders), trespassing, and disorderly conduct.

The best evidence in the case was the video from Mr. Mocek’s digital camera that both the TSA and the police had tried to stop Mr. Mocek from filming, and which ended when they seized his camera out of his hands and shut it off.

In her closing argument, defense counsel Molly Schmidt-Nowara argued that the police and TSA witnesses were not credible, that their testimony was contradicted by the video and by common sense, that what they really objected to was having Mr. Mocek legally take pictures, and that any disorderly conduct was on the part of the police and TSA.

The verdict of “NOT GUILY” on all counts shows that the jurors saw through the police and TSA lies.

Mr. Mocek, of course, is still out thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and expenses for repeated trips to Albuquerque to defeat this frame-up attempt.

But we hope that Mr. Mocek’s acquittal will encourage and empower others to question the unlawful demands of the TSA — including their demands that we waive our right to remain silent, provide them with evidence as to our identity, and submit to virtual strip-search machines or groping — and to photograph and record our interactions with the TSA’s cop-wannabes and rent-a-cops and the local law enforcement officers who provide their muscle.

(See also our FAQ: What you need to know about your rights at the airport.)

We also hope that this verdict will teach police not to blindly back up the TSA when the TSA calls upon law enforcement officers to “deal with” travelers to whose actions the TSA has, for whatever reason, taken a dislike. This verdict shows that jurors can see through their lies when they make up stories and false accusations against travelers.

Uncontested TSA and police testimony at the trial established, among other things, three important points:

  1. Despite calling themselves “officers”, TSA checkpoint staff are not law enforcement officers and have no police powers — and both TSA and police are fully aware of this. When the TSA calls for the police, they are just like any other civilians who call the police, and the police have no obligation to do what they ask.  Police should not act, and have no right to act, in such a case, unless the police have a reasonable basis for believing that a crime has actually been committed or is being committed.
  2. You have the right, recognized by the TSA, to fly without showing ID. “It happens all the time. We have a procedure for that,” according to the lead TSA “Travel Document Checker” at the Albuquerque airport. Signs and announcements in airports saying that all passengers must present ID are false.
  3. You have the right, recognized by the TSA, to photograph or film anywhere in publicly accessible areas of airports including TSA checkpoints, as long as you don’t violate any local laws, photograph the images on the screening monitors, interfere with the screening process, or slow down the line. (Whether those limitations to your First Amendment rights claimed by the TSA are legal or Constitutional was not decided in this case, since Mr. Mocek wasn’t violating any local law, filming the images on the screening monitors, interfering with the screening process, or slowing down the line.) Signs or statements that photography is prohibited at Federal checkpoints are, in general, false.

Annoying the TSA is not a crime. Photography is not a crime. You have the right to fly without ID, and to photograph, film, and record what happens.  Your best defense is your own camera and microphone.  Ordinary jurors know, and are prepared to recognize with their verdict, that the TSA and police lie about what they are doing and why.

We salute Phil Mocek for standing up for all of us and our rights, and encourage supporters to contribute to help pay off his legal bills.