Jury Convicts Arlington ‘Cop Watcher'

Law enforcement hopes case sends message

Across the country, regular citizens are picking up cameras and following police officers, filming their every move and then posting the videos online. These cop watchers, as they call themselves, say they're holding officers accountable for their actions.

Arlington police say that's fine and that cop watchers are completely within their legal rights to film officers out in public -- but they, too, can be held accountable for their actions.

This week, a Tarrant County judge sentenced cop watcher Kenny Lovett to 90 days in jail after a jury determined he interfered with a high-risk traffic stop in Arlington in 2015.

"It's a safety issue first and foremost," said Melinda Westmoreland, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Lovett's case.

On that day, Lovett and several other cop watchers pulled over to film Arlington police making a traffic stop.

Not long after they began filming, two officers approached them, concerned about the holsters some the cop watchers were also carrying. The exchange was caught on video.

"I need you to go back [to your vehicle] and put your weapons up if you're armed," the officer says in the recording. "Feel free to record after that."

Two of cop watchers did what the officers told them to do. Lovett, who was carrying a black powder pistol, refused. He was then led away in handcuffs and charged with interfering with public duties and disorderly conduct.

"There's an area there that's not safe for them to come into," said Westmoreland. "When you have an arrest being made across the street and then you have people displaying deadly weapons, it becomes a safety concern -- and at that point it is interfering with public duties."

Westmoreland said the driver whom officers pulled over that day was a convicted felon, which alone made it a potentially dangerous situation. She argues the cop watchers made things worse by distracting police at the scene.

"I do feel like [Lovett's] sentence was appropriate in this particular case," said Westmoreland. "I hope it sends a message that we're not going to tolerate people showing up on traffic stops with deadly weapons."

Lovett's attorney, Alex Kim, believes it sends a different message, and a slippery one at that, about citizens' First Amendment rights.

"Our First Amendment rights generally aren't there to make sure everybody feels happy and safe," said Kim. "Our First Amendment rights are there to make sure everyone can express themselves."

He said that's all Lovett did that day, pointing to the fact that no one was injured and his client never removed the pistol from its holster or pointed it at anybody.

"We have a right to monitor our government," said Kim.

Lovett is appealing the ruling in his case.

It's the first of five cases involving cop watchers the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office plans to prosecute.

Joesph Tye was arrested and charged with interfering with public duties during the same incident for which Lovett was convicted. Kim is also representing him.

Kory Watkins, Jacob Cordova and Janie Lucero were arrested and charged with interfering with public duties in connection to a separate incident in Arlington.

"Each of those trials will rely on their particular juries to determine whether or not that law was broken," said Kim.

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