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As the RGJ reported, a Dayton man annoyed county employees at the Dayton Public Utilities by filming video, not answering reasonable questions, and then got upset when someone who had the phone shoved in her face, quite naturally, took the phone he was filming with away from him. Then he threw a fit, got his phone back, hung around the building, and was arrested.
Anthony Passalacqua, a self-described EMT (he also claimed he was in the Army and “was in law enforcement”), was arrested on charges of brandishing and trespassing. Passalacqua apparently was openly carrying a pistol as well, which Sheriff McNeil affirmed to the RGJ was indeed legal.
“First Amendment Auditors,” as these people who make videos call themselves, engage in entering public buildings or public spaces and filming until they are either confronted by police or security, or someone asks them what they are doing. Usually, the “auditor’s” obdurately rude reaction escalates the encounter into what they term a “violation”.
The video is cringeworthy and the comments even worse. After strolling around the parking lot, describing where he is, Passalacqua enters the office.
|Anthony Passalacqua, c. Lyon County Sheriff via RGJ|
He is fairly quickly questioned as to why he is filming. When met by the officer manager, he immediately goes outside as if he was intimidated. Instead of saying “First Amendment Audit, ma’am,” instead he is defensive, asks his own questions, such as “Who are you that I have to answer to?”, and reiterates essentially “you’re in public, this is a public building,” etc. One of his snarky rejoinders is: “Why don’t you write to Congress and tell them to change the First Amendment?”
Passalacqua called his “audit” a “fail” because someone questioned why he was doing and why. I guess with the bar that low, it makes all the open carry clarification encounters that end in “sorry, you were right,” failures too. Education in pursuit of compliance does not seem to be one of the “auditors’” interests, a marked difference between these YouTubers and gun rights advocates.
Things go pear-shaped when Passalacqua goes into a second office. Inside, he puts the camera very close to the woman’s face, she pushes the camera away. A natural reaction, I would argue. He claimed, via text on the video, that she was blocking his exit, and immediately screams “Do not touch me!” Only audio of this incident is available and it is important to note that the video was edited. During the “scuffle” Passalacqua screams, “Do not approach me, you are making me in fear for my life.” Note: taking a phone from someone does not constitute a threat to life nor does it meet the definition of “theft.”
Passalacqua also said: “Nevada law says that in the presence of two or more people I’m allowed to defend myself.” That is incorrect. He is misquoting one of the brandishing statutes (which ironically can be construed against Passalacqua). It is, in fact, illegal to cause a disturbance in a public building and given the Passalacqua’s behavior, I would bet a jury would find that he precipitated the entire incident and overreacted to any alleged wrong done to him.
Mike Workman, Utilities Director, came out and ensured the phone is returned within about a minute. Rightly, Workman calls out Passalacqua’s behavior, saying “You can’t treat our staff that way.” Workman had a very valid point. Passalacqua was upset that the staff asked reasonable questions about what he was doing, which Passalacqua refused to answer. That is his right. However, the disconnect is in a total disrespect for civility. These “audits” are about causing trouble, not finding it. Human nature and honest mistakes of law or facts does not constitute tyranny. It would be entirely another thing for staff to get upset if Passalacqua was filming them fudging overtime slips or stuffing petty cash into their pockets.
The rabid anti-government “First Amendment audit” crowd would have you believe that merely asking a question about someone filming in a frankly suspicious manner is a violation of the Constitution. They probably think security asking a guy who set up a camera tripod in the State Museum to take it down for safety reasons is worthy of treason charges. I do not think that office workers, even though they are public employees, should be held to the same standards of calm circumspection as police officers are.
The office manager articulates her concerns as a person—not an employee of the government—but an average human being who has a legitimate concern about her safety. Is this a disgruntled customer, angry over his increased sewer rates, who is going to follow staff home? “Who are you and why are you filming?” is a lawful question. It’s not violation to ask and entirely reasonable to expect a satisfactory explanation.
Normal folks, unware of this person or these “audits” would instinctively be unnerved and think of their safety. Passalacqua could have honestly answered and left it at that. Had Passalacqua stated he was seeing how staff reacted to his filming as part of a “First Amendment audit,” that likely would have been the end of it, aside from raised eyebrows and stifled giggles. But he didn’t.
The only thing I would consider problematic on the part of the county employees is taking the camera, but that is a natural response under the circumstances. A cop should know better; an officer worker who just happens to work for the county does not have that higher expectation of decorum. Given the confrontational and suspicious nature of the individual, I can excuse the behavior, which is something that would almost certainly happen between exclusively private individuals.
I would argue that asking what someone is doing is a minimal intrusion into their privacy and upon their supposed right to film, additionally, if they refused to answer, in these days of mass shootings and terrorist attacks, that lacking an answer such as “First Amendment audit, ma’am,” would constitute reasonable suspicion (at least the encounter) that such a person may be up to no good.
For example, other than police car enthusiasts or “auditors,” what other good explanation is there for videotaping the secure parking lot and exit of a police station? A reasonable person would give an answer satisfactory enough that the average person would recognize the person isn’t planning to ambush officers as they leave on patrol or shoot up county offices.
Frankly, if this man was doing a “First Amendment audit” of his local park by intrusively filming young girls, he would have gotten off light if all that happened was his phone was snatched away. Government officials should take note not to grab the camera, if only to deprive inconsiderate individuals like this anymore ammo.
Per Passalacqua’s YouTube video page, he claims that deputies were concerned his phone was a disguised pistol (they do exist). This was an overstatement, but they also did not shoot the armed man and returned his phone, video intact. Being “aggressive and hostile” will result in one getting zero leeway from police. In other words, play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Don’t be a jerk and you won’t be treated like one.
“First Amendment Auditors” often display incredible rudeness and indifference to polite social behavior. Passalacqua was no different. While the First Amendment excuses all kinds of words, one still owes his fellow citizens basic common courtesies; none of which Passalacqua exhibited. He became enraged that his discourteous and bellicose attitude and actions naturally inflamed human emotion and provoked a reaction. He went looking for trouble and provided the ingredients to cause it.
I have encountered these kinds of people before; their sole intent is to antagonize law enforcement, public officials, etc. into something salacious their rabid YouTube fans can get excited over. “Auditors” rely on the presence of the camera, their out-of-place appearance in whatever particular space, and their intransigent behavior to generate a response that, to them, constitutes a “violation.” Asking a question constitutes a “violation”, ignoring the “auditor’s” question constitutes a “violation”, standing nearby and watching constitutes a “violation”…
One YouTube commentator called for Mr. Workman to be executed. Nothing illegal happened in this video other than Passalacqua’s own behavior. These people hate government so much that they strain at gnats to find something to rail against. These videos are nothing more than fuel for ignorant, anti-government hatred; pornography for their sedition fantasies.
At the end of the day, the rule of law is nice, but it is nothing more than an artificial human construct. Our ability to freely film, to yell, and to not answer questions relies on the simple fact that we as a whole reserve those rights for when they are necessary and exercise them courteously. Bad behavior makes it impossible for the rest of us to have nice things. The history of gun control is rooted firmly to this principle; sure, we have Second Amendment, but a violence society or notorious killings get us bad gun laws.
Behavior like this impairs the ability to correct actual violations of important civil rights, particularly gun rights. It did not help gun rights supporters that Passalacqua was armed, but he is not characteristic of gun rights advocates. Noted advocates in Nevada also film, but with discreet, purpose-made body cameras and are always respectful, while maintaining their rights.
Of course, the gun rights advocate’s goal is to seek correction to actual injustices rather than from a self-serving motivation to portray oneself as a victim. Passalacqua’s passion, tempered with knowledge and respect for his fellow citizens, is badly needed in the gun rights community, where we fight actual willful and wanton violations of the law where appointed officials laugh in our faces.
Hopefully, in the wake of this incident and the internet freedom fighters’ threats, Lyon County doesn’t need to post stupid “no guns” signs (which prohibit concealed, but not open carry). If they do, the blame lies with Passalacqua.
Nothing untoward happened here; a man with a camera and a dangerously little amount of knowledge about his rights, and plenty of folks online cheering him on, made a little trouble. In a time where true tyranny is peeking over the horizon, and troubles are rearing their ugly head, we do not need a normal reaction to boorish behavior conflated into government malfeasance.