Secret Service agent questions rights of Vermont teen in body camera video
Redacted body camera footage, released by the Burlington Police Department, shows an unidentified Secret Service agent’s interaction with a Burlington minor; the meeting raises questions about the officer’s understanding of the rights of minors.
Images were obtained body cameras of four officers who responded following an interaction between two Secret Service agents and 16-year-old resident Phin Brown on March 25. Brown called Burlington Police to respond because he said he felt his rights were being violated.
Brown says he was arrested, slammed into a car and searched without warning or context, and that the two people, who were not in uniform, appeared to be trying to enter his house. Officers told officers they introduced themselves to Brown as “with the police” and searched him because they believed he was threatening them, the video shows. They said they were performing duties related to an ongoing investigation.
At one point, the female agent said, “You see, this is the problem with our young people today. They have no respect for the police. And shouting, “Oh, you violated my rights”. No, we didn’t rape… you know what? You are 16. You have no rights until 18 years old. ‘”
Lia Ernst, staff attorney for the ACLU in Vermont, said she finds the statement concerning, especially since it is not accurate.
“It is deeply alarming that a federal law enforcement officer says otherwise,” Ernst said. “Federal constitutional protections and limitations on law enforcement apply equally regardless of age, and they also apply equally to federal and state officials.”
Ernst added: “Certainly, if she really believes that she is right, that people under the age of 18 have no constitutional rights, then at a minimum, she needs to have better training and be able to better understand the limits on how she interacts with the general public, and especially those under the age of 18. “
Stephen Marks, the US Secret Service’s special agent in charge of New England, declined to comment on the case. He referred the Burlington Free Press to the central communications office in Washington, DC Attempts to reach a spokesperson for the central U.S. Secret Service office were not immediately successful on Tuesday.
Attempts to reach someone at federal law enforcement training centers for comment also did not immediately succeed on Tuesday.
ACLU lawyer: officers at all levels must have “reasonable suspicion” of a person searching
Ernst says protections for people are stronger under the Vermont Constitution than they are under the US Constitution. For example, under the Vermont Constitution, a state or local law enforcement officer cannot ask a person undergoing a traffic stop to get out of the car unless the The law enforcement officer has a reasonable suspicion that another crime has occurred or for security reasons. Under the United States Constitution, federal agents can order someone out of the car at any time during a traffic stop.
Regarding a search, Ernst said federal and state constitutions require the officer to have reasonable suspicion that the individual is armed and dangerous.
“This applies regardless of the person’s age and whether you are a federal, state or local law enforcement officer,” Ernst said.
According to the videos, the female agent said it appeared Brown looked at the car the two officers were sitting in and made a threat.
“That’s what it seems, so we go over to him and say, ‘Hey, what’s up? “,” said the agent to the Burlington officer who responded. “And now he says he’s a minor.”
The male officer told another Burlington officer that Brown appeared to be making a threatening gesture.
“I thought he was like a threat of violence,” the male agent said, according to the video. “So I went down and I said, ‘Hey, do you have any guns on you. Police. “So, I just gave him a little pat. So he’s outraged about it. We understand. And he says he’s a minor. That’s fine. It’s not like minors can’t. not have guns. “
Brown maintains that he made no such gesture and was simply leaving the house to go somewhere with his friend. The officers had been sitting outside his home for two hours and only showed up after searching him and after he told them he was a minor. He says he believes the meeting was racially motivated, but officers denied it to Burlington Police.
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said the same home was appealed on March 3 over a report of three gunmen attempting to force entry.
Know your rights
Burlington police officers who answered the call concluded the incident was a “misunderstanding” between Brown and the two officers, according to the videos. In a written response on Facebook to the videos, Brown said he was particularly concerned about the officer’s claims about race and the fact that minors do not have rights.
“It’s scary to say that people who think this way have so much power,” Brown wrote.
He added: “I hope that together as a community we can make sure that these federal agents are held accountable for their actions and I hope even more that as a community we can make a change, a big change will come from this event so no CHILD – no matter what their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or any other factor it has to go through it. Hope we can make it clear to the future of our world that we do not support this kind of behavior. “
Ernst said it was important for minors to learn about their rights and exercise their right to remain silent.
Minors also have the right to speak to an adult if questioned by authorities, Ernst said. If they ask to speak to an adult, the questioning is supposed to end at this point.
“It can be difficult to assert your rights under pressure from law enforcement when the power differential is so obvious, but you have the right to be silent,” Ernst said. “If you are taken into custody, you have the right to a lawyer.”