New Albany, MS- An incident at the New Albany Walmart parking lot late Tuesday afternoon, August 9th, attracted a fair amount attention during recent days on the website Facebook.
The New Albany Police Department received a call about a group of people who had emerged onto the Walmart parking lot from an old school bus. They were said to be begging money and riding skateboards around the Walmart parking lot, which is private property.
Police arrived to find a scene straight out of the 1960s: a school bus painted in psychedelic colors and a dozen or so latter-day hippies. The group called themselves the “Stock Pot Kitchen,” and said they were traveling around the U.S. asking for donations and using the money to feed hungry people.
A story circulated primarily on the group’s Facebook page says a New Albany police officer took a cell phone away from one of the Stock Pot crew, who was using it to shoot video of the officer. The Facebook posting alleges that the officer violated the constitutional rights of the group, etc.
New Albany Chief of Police, Chris Robertson, issued a statement shown below that gives NAPD’S account of the confrontation and denies that any rights were violated.
We are not experts on the U.S. Constitution, and we are certainly not inclined to encourage belief in anything posted on Facebook, so we will not contribute further verbiage to this already overblown tale.
We simply refer our readers to the widely distributed photographs of The Stock Pot Kitchen crew and their bus, and we ask these two rhetorical questions:
(1) If this bus and crew rolled onto your private property would you be inclined to call the police? and..
(2) Would you knowingly consume any food prepared by these folks on this bus?
New Albany Police Chief Chris Robertson’s full statement:
In response to the incident on August 9th, 2016 involving officers of the New Albany Police Department and members of the group known as Stock Pot Kitchen, our officers were there to investigate complaints, including unauthorized solicitation on private property.
The officers approached the people in question & ultimately issued no citations, but they did inform them that multiple behaviors, including unauthorized solicitation & riding skateboards in the parking lot, were not permitted there. So they were asked to leave the premises in a timely manner, which they did.
We recognize that people do generally have a right to take pictures or videos, and our officers are trained as such. There were actually two cameras taking videos at the time. One was allowed to continue filming because he kept at a safe distance & did not interfere with the officers attempting to do their duties. The officers are also trained to take control of their environment and, while investigating, to at all times maintain their own safety, as well as the safety of all other persons in the vicinity.
In this incident, one person approached an officer from the side then went behind him, at which point the officer noticed him; he was filming as he did so. It was not the act of filming itself that interfered with the officer, but in filming while approaching the officer from behind and close to his person the officer felt he created a less than safe environment. He then rapidly became argumentative with the officer, who took action to halt the unsafe and combative behavior, which, again, was not simply the act of filming, but doing so while moving & closely approaching the officer from behind. The officer simply removed that threat & impediment to his ability to continue his investigation in a safe manner by removing the object which the person was combatively asserting he had a right to do. The person who properly engaged in filming without interfering with the officer was allowed to continue filming. No property was seized, no property, pictures or videos were destroyed or damaged and no persons were charged with criminal offenses.
Even the ACLU website that the Facebook video links to says: “police officer may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.” In this instance, the officer believed the person’s aggressive behavior, which he attempted to justify by his right to film, was interfering with his investigation.
In our present environment where we are weekly reading about law officers being killed or injured, we find ourselves having to be extra vigilant in our attempts to enforce the law and to protect people and their property while maintaining our own safety. We train our officers to emphasize safety above all.