Pocatello Police Department responds to filming controversy

POCATELLO, Idaho — The Pocatello Police Department weighed in on the controversy surrounding police interaction with a man who filmed the FBI office in Pocatello, during a press conference Monday, July 25.

The press conference came after social media erupted over a video taken by Chubbuck resident Sean Johnson. Johnson filmed a video of the FBI office in Pocatello and officers approached him, telling him to stop filming because he was committing an act of “public voyeurism.”

“We got a report that you were recording F.B.I. building,” the officer said in the video. “I’m conducting a criminal investigation.”

Since then the Pocatello Police Department has clarified the officer misspoke when he said Johnson was committing an act of public voyeurism, which appears no where in Idaho’s statutes, but was rather trying to explain why he was there.

“The subject was not charged with public voyeurism or any other crime in regards of filming the facility,” Pocatello Police Chief Scott Marchand said in a press conference Monday, July 24. “It was a suspicious activity, that’s why we were there. There were other circumstances that came up in regards to that contact that ended resulting in the charges of resisting and obstructing.”

This has not been the first time the man now charged with resisting arrest and obstructing officers, Sean Johnson, has filmed his interactions with police.

His YouTube channel contains several videos with titles like, “July 10th conversation with Chubbuck police,” “Bringing awareness to local law enforcement,” and “a police officer deliberately flashing his light in my face and camera.”

In one of Johnson’s latest videos, he addresses the recent attention he’s received about his filming of the Pocatello FBI video.

“Throughout most of my adult life I never gave police a second thought,” Johnson wrote in the video’s description. “I just lived my life and had no reason to think of them at all because I don’t do anything that would ever get their attention. I have a pretty clean record, and intend to keep it that way.”

Johnson has had a few run-ins with the law. The Idaho Repository lists charges of resisting or obstructing officers, disturbing the peace, and bicycle-light and reflector required at night.

In the video addressing his recent media attention, Johnson refers to his actions as an “audit,” saying he wasn’t initially planning to film a video that day.

“[It] was a last moment decision while on my way home from the grocery store. Back somewhere in my mind I was somewhat prepared if it went further than it usually does. I had the time off of work, and had the funds if I had to bail myself out of jail, and even secure a lawyer if need be. I was not as prepared with how I was going to react if the police came to me though. I was kind of wavering between taking the “right to be silent” approach, and trying to convince the officer of the legality of what I was doing.”

The practice of filming police officers has been a increasing trend within recent years. In New Jersey, a woman was arrested for refusing to speak to officers during a traffic stop.

Lieutenant Ian Nelson of the Pocatello Police Department says the department has not seen a noticeable increase in local incidents like those in New Jersey and in other parts of the nation.

“Most of the time people are very cooperative  and they’re willing to help the officers out in conducting their business,” Nelson said. ”

Nelson said during something as basic as a traffic stop, both officers and the person pulled over have several responsibilities.

“The officer’s responsibility first and foremost is to contact that person, be professional and respectful and let the person know, ‘Hey I stopped you because of this reason,'” Nelson said. “Usually the officer will ask for driver’s license, registration and insurance and the driver should be prepared to provide all those documents.”

In the event the driver cannot produce those documents, Nelson says, the driver should be prepared to give their name and other identifying information so the officer can verify who they are.