A jury acquitted a live-streaming photographer of interfering with the police response to a mass shooting.
Dean Schiller, 44, of Colorado, refused repeated requests by officers to leave the area as the mass shooting at the King Snoopers supermarket in Boulder was broadcast live.
On March 22, 2021, citizen journalist Schiller started a YouTube live stream after hearing gunshots and seeing three people lying on the ground. Schiller recorded three hours of video depicting emergency services trying to deal with the situation. It can be viewed here, but be warned that some of the images are disturbing.
A Boulder County jury found Schiller not guilty of misdemeanor obstruction. Accordingly NBC NewsHis attorneys argued that a temporary diversion is not the same as preventing police from doing their job.
Jurors were shown clips of Schiller’s video showing several officers telling him to back off for his own safety and the safety of the officers. Schiller cursed at some officers and made other aggressive gestures toward them.
His defense attorney, Tiffany Drahota, argued that the case was not about treating the police with respect.
However, prosecutors said Schiller became an obstacle for police trying to save lives. Deputy District Attorney Myra Gottal said her priority is to continue streaming to get more viewers on her channel.
“It was a calculated decision to get attention and he loved it,” she said in closing arguments during the trial last week.
Police testified that Schiller was not arrested because of a lack of time and resources.
“I wasn’t creating something. It was real news, and I had to show it as long as people wanted to see it,” says Schiller.
District Attorney Michael Dougherty said police responded to an “incredibly challenging and difficult crime,” and said his office prosecutes those who obstruct and interfere with law enforcement responses to crises.
Ahmed Al Aliwi Alisa, 23, is accused of killing customers, workers and a police officer who rushed into the shop to stop the attack. The prosecution has been on hold since December after a judge ruled he was mentally unfit to stand trial.
Taking a photo of the police
The case is part of a broader debate about police recording of crime scenes. In recent years, there has been a rise in citizen journalists like Schiller who publish content on their own social media channels.
They’re not official media, but recordings like Schiller’s have become an important part of documenting a breaking news story. The ubiquity of smartphone cameras makes it easy for anyone nearby to get vital footage.
Arizona tried to make it illegal for bystanders to record police activity within eight feet of the law, which was challenged by civil rights groups and photographers.
In July, a Denver-based U.S. appeals court became the seventh appeals court to rule that people have a right to record police while acting under the First Amendment.