Cop watchers, or the people who follow cops around with cameras to catch them doing something wrong, were predictably outraged after one of their own got arrested by the Arlington Police Department this weekend. "A copwatcher with a black powder revolver was kidnapped and hauled away like a dog catcher hauling away an animal," says the dramatically-worded post on the the Dallas Cop Block Facebook page, describing the arrest of a protester named Jacob Cordova.
So sure, Cordova was openly carrying a pistol during his confrontation with the police. But to cop watchers, many of whom are also open carry protesters, holding a pistol isn't a legitimate reason to be arrested.
"Hey, they may arrest me," is the first thing Cordova is heard saying in the video captured of his arrest.
"For what?" another Cop Watcher asks.
"A pre-1899 black powder pistol, which isn't against the law," Cordova says, referencing a part of the Texas Penal Code that excludes pistols from being considered firearms. "I want them to," Cordova adds as two cops approach the camera.
"You're not allowed to have a firearm on here," the police tell Cordova. "That's a pre-1899 black powder pistol, read the penal code," Cordova says. He goes on to correct the cops' interpretation of gun laws for the rest of the video.
"That's a pre-1899 black powder pistol, you little cocksucker," Cordova says a final time as the cops haul him away in handcuffs. "I'm being detained for my pistol," he yells back at his comrades.
Reached on the telephone a few days later, Arlington police deny that Cordova was arrested for his pistol. "What he was arrested for happened before that video started," says department spokesman Sgt. Jeffrey Houston.
Houston is careful to say that openly carrying black powder pistols is legal in Texas. So is filming police. And his department knows that swearing and yelling at police, as he says cop watchers often do, is protected by the First Amendment. It was the combination of all those things that made the cops concerned.
According to Houston, Cordova walked up to a policeman as he was conducting a traffic stop and began yelling over him. Then, Houston says, Cordova told the officer that, "you're not the only person with a gun, I've got a gun too." He pulled up his reflective vest to show the officer his pistol, Houston says, and added that more people with guns were on their way.
"Any one of them [Cordova's actions] alone would not constitute interference, but you start putting all of them together," and it counts, Houston says. Arlington police charged Cordova with interfering with public duties. Cordova hasn't yet returned a message we left on his cell, and Dallas Cop Block organizer Jose Vela said Cordova doesn't want to talk.
Cordova's real crime, Arlington Police Department spokesman Tiara Richard adds, was "the inclusion of the weapon at that scene, in combination with what he was saying, plus the actions he was taking ... the totality of the actions and the existence of the weapon at the scene."
Since we weren't there before that video rolled, we don't know what actually happened. Still, the Arlington police department's statements provide a useful lesson: while yelling at police and holding guns in front of them is perfectly legal in Texas, doing both at the same time may in fact give the police a reason to arrest you.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.