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ACLU: Investigate Tampa police for revealing woman’s personal information

The organization says police personnel may broken the law by releasing the personal information of a Black woman after her encounter with a Tampa officer went viral. However, she was not arrested.
A Tampa police officer held his pistol on a motorist and her passenger for more than four minutes on June 18 while waiting for backup. He pulled them over to investigate a report of a stolen vehicle, but the driver recorded her own video that soon went viral.
A Tampa police officer held his pistol on a motorist and her passenger for more than four minutes on June 18 while waiting for backup. He pulled them over to investigate a report of a stolen vehicle, but the driver recorded her own video that soon went viral. [ Tampa Police Department ]
Published Jul. 2, 2020
Updated Jul. 2, 2020

TAMPA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is calling for an investigation of the Tampa Police Department for publicizing the personal information of a Black woman that was captured on body-camera video released last month.

The organization sent a letter to Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren on Thursday, calling for his office to investigate whether police personnel broke the law by publishing Joneshia Wilkerson’s personal information “for the purpose of causing her substantial emotional distress without a legitimate purpose.”

The video was recorded on June 18, when Wilkerson was pulled over by a Tampa police officer investigating a report of a stolen car. The 23-year-old recorded a cell phone video of the encounter. In it an officer drew his weapon and aimed it toward the car, which she said left her fearing for her life.

“You know it’s not an exaggeration to say that Ms. Wilkerson, at that point, became afraid of becoming the latest Black American to be killed by a white officer,” the ACLU’s letter says.

Related: Videos from driver, body cam show two views of Tampa cop pulling his gun

The Tampa Police Department then posted a video of the incident recorded by an officer’s body-worn camera. In that video, Wilkerson gave her full name, address and phone number to the officer. She was not arrested and was freed — but police did not delete her identifying information from the video.

However, the personal information of a woman who was riding with Wilkerson, and who was also not arrested, was removed.

When the Tampa Bay Times asked why the department did not delete the personal information of someone who was not arrested, Tampa police spokesperson Jamel Laneè gave this response on June 22: “Her information is public record.”

The department did not respond to further questions, saying the incident was the subject of an internal investigation. The Tampa Bay Times had posted a shorter version of the video.

Wilkerson said she received threatening phone calls and moved to a hotel after her personal information and cell phone number were published. The department later deleted the video.

When the Times asked Laneè why it was removed, she gave this response on June 29: “I had a conversation with Wilkerson. Chief (Brian) Dugan asked that we take the video down ... nothing more, nothing less.”

Wilkerson declined to comment on Thursday.

The Tampa Police Department first said it released the body-camera video to “combat the false narrative of police brutality being presented on social media” after Wilkerson posted her own video of the incident.

Wilkerson, an Army Reservist, said she had borrowed the car from a friend. Her video, which has since been removed, was viewed more than 45,000 times on social media.

The ACLU said comments about the incident made by Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan at a June 22 new conference, could be interpreted as attempting to intimidate Wilkerson.

Shortly after commenting on the incident, he said: “I want the good people who support the police to start stepping up. I need them to step up and support the cops.”

Related: ‘The officers feel like they can’t win’: Tampa chief responds to police criticism

The ACLU wrote that “the moment he made this statement, Ms. Wilkerson’s personal information was still publicly available on TPD’s YouTube page, meaning some members of the public who may have interpreted Chief Dugan’s comments as a call to action — potentially violence — could have still acted against her.”

The organization also noted that: “Someone had to have deliberately made the decision to redact the other individuals’ information from the video but to leave Ms. Wilkerson’s name, date of birth, home phone number, and home address on YouTube for absolutely anyone to see ...”

“The timing... suggests that TPD published Ms. Wilkerson’s personal information, when they knew that it would cause her to receive harassment and threats, to retaliate against her for publishing a video of an officer raising his gun to her and for initiating an internal-affairs complaint.”

The decision not to remove Wilkerson’s personal information from the video before it was made public, according to the ACLU, could violate a statute that prohibits using someone’s personal information without their consent to harass them.