While working on an assignment for the Department of Journalism and Electronic Media reporting class, three Texas Tech students were interviewing a Lubbock police officer when he told them it was a crime to record a police officer without the officer knowing, which goes against what they have learned in class.
“I asked him, ‘Well, do you mind if I record you,'” and he said I couldn’t, that ‘it’s illegal to record someone without their knowing,'” said Gloria Ogletree, one of the three students who spoke with Sgt. B.K. Hurst of the Lubbock Police Department.
Unknown to Hurst, Ogletree was recording their conversation. This recording was provided to The Hub by Ogletree and it has Hurst saying that “if you record [a police officer] without their knowledge, you’ve committed a crime.”
According to the Texas Penal Code, section 16.02, recording a conversation is legal if the person who is recording the conversation is a party to the conversation.
Lubbock Police Department’s Chief of Police, Roger Ellis, said it is not part of the LPD’s policy to arrest reporters, or threaten arrest, for trying to interview a police officer, however, he said he does tell his officers to avoid talking about cases.
Patrick Metze, a law professor at Tech, said he thinks Hurst should suffer some sort of consequence for lying to Ogletree, Tanner Tate and Austin McNabb.
“He should be fired, number one,” he said. “When they abuse their power, yeah, it’s against the law. Should they go to jail? I don’t know, but they sure shouldn’t be a police officer because that shows pretty bad judgment.”
Metze said the way Hurst acted towards the students was bad policy and indicated to him Hurst was about to do something he did not want other people to know about.
Tanner Tate, one of the students accompanying Ogletree, said Hurst said he instructs his officers not to speak to the media about cases they’re involved with and officers are never recorded unless it relates to internal affairs or some type of phone call where they need the conversation recorded.
When Hurst was approached for his side of the story, there was a video camera present for accuracy purposes. After he realized he was being recorded, he said he did not have anything to say. He said he could tell the reporters had no integrity as journalists.
After he was asked if journalists still had no integrity even if they are following the law, he said it made no difference.
“It doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “You still have no integrity.”
Hurst said there is a law against videotaping people. When asked if he could show or tell the reporters what the law was, he said he did not know it off the top of his head.
He suggested the reporters talk to the District Attorney’s office, but refused to let the reporters come back and talk to him afterwards.
Matthew Powell, Lubbock’s Criminal District Attorney, said he would not talk against the LPD.
He said it is illegal to record someone after they have indicated they do not want to be recorded. The Texas Penal Code, section 16.02, does not mention this as being illegal.
After the situation between Hurst and the Tech students was explained, Powell said it was hard to tell if any laws were broken because the laws on filming or recording someone are very “fact-specific.”
“There’s no hard set rules,” he said. “That’s why I’m kind of beating around the bush with you a little bit … If you can give me a fact scenario, then I can say, ‘OK, this is OK.'”
After having the situation with Hurst described to him again, Powell said being in the lobby of the police station is not really public property since access had to be given to that location. He said that expectation of privacy is key.
“That’s what it really boils down to, whether or not you have an expectation of privacy in a recorded conversation” he said. The Texas Penal Code makes no mention of any expectation of privacy.
Powell said sometimes his office records conversations and he does not have to tell them they are being recorded and the person who initiated the contact does not have to share they are recording the conversation.
Ellis was contacted again for comment by phone, but was unavailable. His secretary first questioned who was calling and then said he was out of the office until next week.
-Sarah Scroggins; Sydney Holmes; Claudia Tristan; Lauren Estlinbaum, The Hub@TTU