Greene encountered police surrounding a man who was almost entirely naked until, she says, a member of the public gave him a small towel to conceal his genitals. As a journalist who has extensively covered police brutality in Denver against unarmed black men, Greene whipped out her cellphone and began recording the interaction, which police say was a welfare check but Greene says may have begun as a criminal indecent exposure case.
The encounter happened in July, but footage was just released Tuesday. Greene's attorney noted that police did not release the footage to them but did to another person who requested the public records during the presser.
In the video, an officer tells Greene that she can't record because the nearly naked man is "protected by HIPAA," the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a law governing the privacy of a patient's medical documents. "He was literally throwing his weight around and throwing all sorts of legal mumbo jumbo around as excuses for me to stop the scrutiny," Greene said of one of the officers at a Wednesday press conference.After Greene takes out her phone to record the officer's badge number, he pushes her camera away and tells her that she'll be "arrested for interference" if she doesn't step away.
The two officers twist her arms and place her in handcuffs, both telling her to "stand up and act like a lady."
"Are you f**king kidding me? Act like a lady?" Greene says.
At that point, one of the officers tells her, "Now you can go to jail."
"To tell someone to act like a lady while they're being unjustly handcuffed while they are on a public sidewalk is insane and completely inappropriate," Greene said at the press conference.
The officers take her to a squad car, telling her to stop resisting as they do. As Greene's lawyer Andy McNulty pointed out, police often say "stop resisting" while engaging in excessive force, so that they can later report that they used force in response to noncompliance and resistance. "The coverup starts the minute that they start using excessive force," he said.
After some 12 minutes, police released Greene from the squad car. According to the Colorado Independent, for which Greene is the editor, additional footage shows that after she asked the officers for their badge numbers, they asked to see her press credentials, which in reality have no legal ramifications in the case, as citizens are allowed to film the police in public spaces in the US — it isn't an extra privilege granted only to members of the press."It is not the police's right, or the city administration's right, or the mayor's right to decide what stories we're covering or what questions we're asking or where we're pointing our cameras at," Greene said at the conference.
"When police arrest anybody, members of the public and certainly members of the press, for investigating and doing their jobs, we are in trouble and democracy is in trouble," Mari Newman, Greene's other attorney, said.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said in a phone call to Greene that her office would not file criminal charges against the officers.
Instead, the police department is conducting an internal investigation, which Greene's lawyers have little confidence in. Greene was questioned in that review "which seemed more like an interrogation of me and investigation into me than the officer involved — in fact, the officer involved hadn't even been questioned at that point, and they talked to 20 witnesses," she said.
Newman said that the city has dragged its feet for "months and months" in internal probes, and that they may take legal action to get accountability in the case.
Greene was initially reluctant to act, having reported on police misconduct in the past. She declined to file charges against the officers because in her two decades of reporting on Denver, she has "never seen authorities throw the book at any officer who hurt — or even killed — someone with unnecessary force," she wrote in her outlet on Thursday.
At the press conference, she explained why she changed her mind and is considering a suit. "The reason for my change of heart is that… if they start pushing us this way, and we acquiesce, there's a chilling effect — because I didn't file a lawsuit or pursue changes in the way that police do their jobs, then they'll just keep doing this. It has to stop somewhere. It's a slippery slope," she said.
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) August 29, 2018
At the press conference, Greene began by highlighting that her position as a journalist is unique in that there is attention given to her case — but that she is not unique in being a victim of police misconduct. "We all know the reason we're here today is because I'm a journalist; this wouldn't be a story or have a press conference — we wouldn't probably even be talking about this if this didn't happen to a journalist. In today's media and political landscape journalists are making news far more than we are comfortable doing," she said. "Before I speak about the journalistic aspect of this, I wanted to speak as a human being. This was not a one-off in Denver, not even close. It's by no means rare for police officers in the city, and for that matter in the state and really in the country, to infringe on people's rights when they are pointing cameras at them or asking questions of them or standing up to them. And when I say people, I mean journalists, because, yes, we are also people, but all people: watchdogs, just average people on the streets and sidewalks of our cities. Anyone familiar with the criminal justice system knows that this happens all too often, and it especially happens to people of color and to poor people and to people with mental illness and people who are far more vulnerable than I am. They also know, and if you ask any of those groups, especially, that if this hadn't happened to a journalist, or to a white lady, or in broad daylight on Colfax Avenue right across from the [Colorado State] Capitol, I would have been not just arrested, but I would have been charged and prosecuted and jailed, likely. And there would not have been a press conference about it."
"We are lucky as a community to have reporters like Susan Greene and like all of you who make sure that Denver doesn't operate in darkness but in sunshine," Greene's attorney Newman said.