Peaceful Streets Founder Arrested

Citizen documentarian claims arrest was in retaliation for NYE filming

The line between First Amendment rights and police safety also became an issue in the Occupy Austin protests.
The line between First Amendment rights and police safety also became an issue in the Occupy Austin protests. (Photo by John Anderson)

Antonio Buehler, founder of the Peaceful Streets Project that has organized a small army of residents into citizen documentarians, was arrested this weekend while filming police arresting a man on East Sixth Street.

According to the Austin Police Department, Buehler was arrested after he failed to heed multiple commands from patrol officers to back off from filming so close. Buehler's attorney, Joe James Sawyer, claims the real motivation is retaliation for Buehler's outspoken involvement in an unrelated and controversial arrest on New Year's Eve.

In that case, Officers Patrick Oborski and Robert Snider arrested a woman whom they said would not stop advising her friend, the driver of the car, during a field sobriety test. Buehler says after he watched Oborski and Snider yank the woman from the passenger seat he began taking pictures. Buehler says Oborski began yelling at him, asking why he was taking photos, and then pushed him up against the tailgate of a truck. Oborski arrested him for resisting arrest and harassment of a public servant, claiming that Buehler spat in his face. Buehler adamantly denies the charge. Indeed, supporters point to video of the event, in which Oborski never wipes his face; no wipe, no spit, they argue.

Buehler founded PSP in the aftermath of the incident and has since handed out 100 cameras to residents and tasked them with keeping their lenses trained on cops on the beat, ostensibly on the lookout for police corruption.

Buehler was out with cohorts on Sixth Street just after 1am on Aug. 26 when he was arrested by police. According to APD Commander Troy Gay, Buehler began filming as police were arresting a man who had been involved in a "verbal argument" with a woman. Police cuffed the man on an outstanding warrant and began walking him down East Sixth Street toward the APD's processing office. Buehler and a colleague trailed behind, shooting video.

Gay said that the man repeatedly asked that they not be filmed and "became very agitated" with the PSP members, and the officers escorting the man "had to use more force to hold" him and keep him walking forward. Gay said that although PSP members clearly "have a First Amendment right to be there" and to videotape, the police felt that Buehler's encroaching on the arrest was putting everyone in a dangerous situation. Gay said the arresting officers asked repeatedly for Buehler to simply step back, which he refused to do. After a final warning, officers arrested Buehler, Gay said. The department is "very supportive and understands the First Amendment rights that individuals have and we respect those," he said. But the department also "takes a very strong stance on interference" with police duties.

But Sawyer isn't buying it. Plain and simple, he said, "it was a pretext arrest." Indeed, Sawyer said the officers who arrested Buehler are friendly with Oborski. "This has been done deliberately," he said.

The investigation into Buehler's arrest is ongoing, Gay said, and Buehler's video camera and footage are being kept by APD as evidence. Watch the footage shot by Buehler's companion below.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Peaceful Streets Project, Antonio Buehler, Austin Police Department, Patrick Oborski, New Year's Eve, Sixth Street

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