May 9, 2010

Police stop of speeding motor-cycler leads to wiretap charges

Cops don't seem to like getting caught on camera. Anthony John Graber III of Harford County is finding that out the hard way. His rapid and possibly reckless motorcycle trip up Interstate 95 has landed the systems engineer in more trouble than a speeding ticket. The 24-year-old Graber is facing criminal charges after the Internet posting of a video he recorded on his helmet-mounted camera during a March 5 traffic stop. When a state trooper saw the 23-second clip on YouTube 10 days after the stop, police got a warrant, searched Graber's parents' house in Abingdon, seized his equipment and charged him with violating the state's unusually restrictive wiretapping law. It's illegal in Maryland to capture audio without the other person's consent, and Trooper J.D. Uhler said he didn't know he was being recorded.

Graber's supporters have taken to the Internet themselves, complaining that Uhler's actions resembled a carjacking more than a legitimate police stop. They note that the trooper was driving an unmarked car and was in plainclothes, brandishing a gun and taking about five seconds before he identified himself as a cop. But a state police spokesman said a marked cruiser driven by a uniformed trooper also participated in the stop, which occurred after authorities said Graber was speeding in excess of 100 mph, riding on one wheel, weaving through traffic and cutting off a passenger bus. Spokesman Gregory M. Shipley denied that Ulher is seeking revenge by pursuing charges related to the video.

"This is not some capricious retribution," said Shipley, calling Graber the type of reckless driver troopers "are peeling … off the backs of tractor-trailers and off the curbs." He said the audio recording of the traffic stop "is a violation of the law. Period. That's what our job is. We're not going to apologize for doing our job."

Graber's case has become a minor sensation among civil libertarians and posters to blogs and message boards, who accuse police of trying to punish someone because they've been embarrassed by publicity over the aggressive traffic stop. It also illustrates how the ubiquitous presence of cameras clashes with state laws written for a very different set of circumstances, to prevent prevent intentionally intercepting the conversation of another person or secretly taping a telephone conversation. READ COMPLETE STORY IN Baltimore Sun

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