Update: Wilmington chief, New Hanover County sheriff say filming police is legal after Uber incident

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Can you shoot video of your interactions with police in North Carolina? Both a Wilmington Police officer and New Hanover County Sheriff's Department deputy told Uber driver Jesse Bright it was illegal recently. Their respective departments later said it was not. (Courtesy of Jesse Bright)
Can you shoot video of your interactions with police in North Carolina? Both a Wilmington Police officer and New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department deputy told Uber driver Jesse Bright it was illegal recently. Their respective departments later said it was not. (Courtesy of Jesse Bright)

WILMINGTON, North Carolina — Leaders of both the Wilmington Police Department and New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office have issued statements regarding a video of a late February traffic stop in Wilmington. The video, shot by a local Uber driver who is also an attorney, shows a traffic stop in during which the attorney claims authorities lied to him about the law.

Read the story that prompted this statement and watch the video here. 

Jesse Bright, a Wilmington attorney, was pulled over late Sunday afternoon, Feb. 26, by the Wilmington Police Department and at least one deputy from the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. Bright, who is also an Uber driver, was taking a fare on a round trip to an address near 10th and Martin streets.

During the stop at a local pawn shop, Bright was informed by police that his fare was being arrested. He began filming the incident, but was told to stop filming by Wilmington Police Department Sgt. Kenneth Becker. An unidentified sheriff’s deputy at the scene of the traffic stop also confirmed it was against a new law to video record law enforcement.

An internal investigation has been launched at the Wilmington Police Department regarding the traffic stop. While the police department officials said  they are not at liberty to discuss the internal investigation, Spokeswoman Linda Thompson said “we do believe it is crucial that we address a question that has surfaced as a result of that video-tape.”

Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous also issued a statement in the news release on Wednesday, stating:

“Taking photographs and videos of people that are in plain sight, including the police, is your legal right. As a matter of fact we invite citizens to do so when they believe it is necessary. We believe that public videos help to protect the police as well as our citizens and provide critical information during police and citizen interaction.”

A statement was also issued by New Hanover Sheriff McMahon. According to the sheriff’s office, McMahon has reviewed the Uber driver’s video and “believes it is clear that officers were incorrect in stating that it was illegal to record the encounter.”

“Not only does the Sheriff agree that it is legal to record encounters, he invites citizens to do so.  As a result, the Deputy involved has been counseled,” sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Jason Augst said.

In addition, McMahon has instructed his staff to ensure that each deputy has been provided with information about the citizen’s right to record encounters with law enforcement officers. The effort is in the sheriff’s practice of openness and transparency with citizens, Augst said.