First Amendment auditors take on Tama County

A picture from Sheriff’s Deputy Casey Schmidt’s body camera shows the incident involving Andrew Haus in Tama on March 30.

It has been 232 years since the first amendment of the Bill of Rights was signed into law, enshrining the freedom of speech, religion, press, and so much else into the Constitution. Lately, a new trend among the American people has citizens testing that law with what they call “audits,” and the auditors have even made their way to Tama County on several recent occasions.

First Amendment Auditor is a fairly new title that people have taken up around the country. The people who hold this title usually go around with video cameras testing their rights in public spaces. Toledo Police Chief Dan Quigley defined it as “a person or group of persons who enter a public building, most often recording the space and interactions with those whom they come into contact with.” More often than not, these videos that the First Amendment Auditors take end up online in places like YouTube.

Both Quigley and Tama Police Chief Jason Bina offered their thoughts on what the auditors hope to achieve.

“I cannot speak for them all, but some may try to bait or goad public employees into having an inappropriate or angry reaction to their presence. Others truly are making sure that their government is held accountable,” Quigley said.

Bina, who has recently dealt with an instance that will be mentioned shortly, took a harsher view of their objectives.

“I think the biggest thing they try to do is get under the skin of employees or workers and use this information to then twist and publish, making employees look bad or not doing the right thing and normally the whole video is cut and chopped to their advantage, just like media,” he said.

The filming of police officers and public officials and spaces has become a form of activism, even with some who don’t consider themselves First Amendment Auditors. Dan, who also goes by Chasing Liberty due to his YouTube channel chasingliberty1776 (he did not provide his last name due to fear of retaliation), told the News Chronicle that he doesn’t necessarily embrace the title.

“I don’t consider myself a First Amendment auditor. I am an investigative journalist. Sometimes that is covering a story someone has sent me. Other times, it is making sure the Police are respecting our rights,” he said.

Dan/Chasing Liberty went on to speak about his passion for filming officers and public officials, even though he’s only been doing it for a year.

“I do this part time but I don’t make a profit and at the same time it’s not a hobby either. A hobby is something someone does for fun. I do this because I feel it is necessary to try and bring a positive change,” he said.

Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera has dealt with First Amendment auditors on at least three separate occasions. When it comes to an officer talking to an auditor Kucera felt it was best to “stay professional, respectful, cooperate as well as reasonable (and) avoid being intimidated or provoked.”

First Amendment auditors follow the same rules that every other American citizen must follow.

“Obey the law as others do. Respect (that) offices or locations in public they visit have responsibilities to staff and customers. Accept if access is off limits and denied, respect that. Be professional,” Kucera said.

Many First Amendment auditors and independent journalists think that filming law enforcement and public officials keeps them more accountable for their actions. Quigley offered his thoughts.

“I think a vast majority of law enforcement officers do their job with the noblest intentions and have nothing to fear when they are being recorded. Many law enforcement officers are recorded regularly with their own body and in car cameras,” the chief said. “We hold our actions and ourselves accountable by our own set of standards, and I do not feel that the ‘First Amendment auditors’ have a huge impact on the actions of most Officers. Most of the ‘First Amendment audits’ that can be seen online are those of police and other public officials that have inappropriate responses to the interaction. Those that have an appropriate reaction do not garner views or have the same appeal as those that have the angry encounters.”

Recently, a YouTube video released by Chasing Liberty himself, which is a cut-together version of two Tama police officer body camera tapes regarding an incident that occurred on March 30, has been making the rounds on the internet. The edited YouTube video shows officers responding to a home in Tama after a 911 call stated that multiple individuals were screaming and fighting.

The 911 caller also stated at one point that someone was yelling, “Stop, stop.” Officer Jake Kessler of the Tama Police Department was the first responding officer. In the video, Kessler attempts to assess the situation and asks a man, who is later identified as Andrew Haus of St. Anthony, for his ID. Haus refuses, there is a back and forth, and Kessler, with the help of other officers, puts Haus on the ground and handcuffs him. Haus pleaded guilty to interference with official acts, which is a misdemeanor.

In an email to the News Chronicle, Haus said he is contacting lawyers but has yet to find one that will take his case against the Tama Police Department. He went on to speak about his children, who witnessed the incident.

“My 3 and 5 year old were right there when it happened, and now when they see a cop they get scared,” he said.

Sometime after the March 30 incident, Haus and Chasing Liberty communicated via email about what happened, and Chasing Liberty decided to compile the edited video that was released on April 13.

To this date, the video has over 13,000 views. The News Chronicle has acquired the unedited and full body and dash camera video, as well as the 911 call for the March 30 incident. Every video will be available on the Tama-Toledo News Chronicle’s YouTube page to be watched in full, as every video released by the News Chronicle is completely unedited.