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Man with police YouTube channel files lawsuit claiming First Amendment rights violated

The West Valley City Police car sits outside the West Valley Police Department building Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — A Salt Lake man who runs a YouTube channel that often does not portray police officers in a positive way has filed a lawsuit against a West Valley police sergeant accusing him of filing a false citation.

Jose Ramirez-Medina, 44, filed the federal civil rights lawsuit on Monday against Sgt. Sean McCarthy and West Valley City.

Ramirez runs a “cop watch” YouTube channel in which he records police officers in the field, according to the lawsuit. He often confronts officers with antagonizing questions.

Ramirez’s attorney, Karra Porter, admits that some of the material on the YouTube channel is “mean,” but said her client has a First Amendment right of free speech.

On April 12, 2018, Ramirez was in a parking lot filming West Valley police who had pulled a car over for a violation. Ramirez had no connection to the vehicle that was stopped.

During the traffic stop, the officers shined a spotlight on Ramirez.

“Jose asked the officers to stop, but the officers continued to shine the spotlight at him. The light from the spotlight was so bright that it temporarily blinded Jose. Jose became alarmed by his state of blindness,” the lawsuit alleges.

Ramirez called 911 requesting medical assistance. He told dispatchers that he could “see but I see blurriness. And when I close my eyes, I see the spotlight,” the lawsuit states.

McCarthy was nearby and heard the call go out. In his initial police report, he said he was familiar with Ramirez’s YouTube channel, according to the lawsuit.

“The sole purpose of this YouTube page is to video police officers engaging them in confrontation. Their front page states, ‘Cops today are nothing but dumb stupid animals, hired for their low IQs and used by the powers that be to control the masses and collect revenue for the state by legally extorting the American pout (sic) out of our hard earned money,’” he wrote.

The lawsuit contends the description of the channel is inaccurate and that “the quote defendant McCarthy was citing was from a public comment posted by a third party.”

In video recorded by McCarthy’s body camera, he is heard telling the other officers already on scene that he will be taking over.

“Just so you know, I’m hijacking your call here. ... I’m giving him a ticket. This is the fourth time I know of this week he’s called in a problem just to videotape people. It’s not against the law to videotape people, but it’s against the law to continually call,” he said.

After checking with paramedics to see if there was anything wrong with Ramirez, McCarthy then approaches Ramirez, who is on his phone in the video and can be heard asking someone for a ride.

“I need you to come and get me, I can’t drive right now. I’m blind. I got blinded,” he said.

McCarthy then informs Ramirez he is being issued a ticket for 911 abuse.

“This is the fourth time this week you’ve called 911 to report some kind of a crime to get us to wherever you’re at,” he said.

In the video, Ramirez appears surprised at what he’s being told and even smiles and looks to the sky in disbelief. “No way,” he said several times. “Who called? What phone number was it that called?”

When Ramirez tells McCarthy that he called 911 because his eyes hurt, McCarthy tells him he’s not interested in debating why he’s getting a ticket.

“I know what you’re about, sir. I’m not going to stand here and debate this and argue this with you so you can get me on camera saying something stupid, OK?”

On April 18, 2018, Ramirez was charged in West Valley Justice Court with emergency reporting abuse, a class C misdemeanor. Porter also represented Ramirez in that case. Five months later, the city filed a motion to dismiss the case.

“West Valley City brought a criminal information against Jose for 911 abuse, knowing the allegations against him were false. When ordered by the court to supply a probable cause statement to support the Information, West Valley City quickly dropped the charges instead,” the lawsuit states.

But Ramirez was still left with attorney fees. Porter said her client shouldn’t have to incur debt because a false claim was filed against him.

“The only reason he was cited and charged is because he runs this cop watch channel,” Porter said. “Being retaliated against is protected by the First Amendment. (McCarthy) just had it out for Jose because he doesn’t like his YouTube channel.”

West Valley police on Tuesday said it had not been served with a copy of the lawsuit and declined comment.

Porter said the lawsuit is not claiming Ramirez suffered any permanent damage from the flood light. It mainly seeks to recoup legal fees that Ramirez spent in his criminal case and now his civil case, she said.