Bay Area Police Sergeant Played Taylor Swift to Get Protesters’ Video Taken Down

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When activists filmed Sergeant D. Shelby outside of an Oakland courthouse, he hit play on a Taylor Swift song to attempt to get their video removed from YouTube. (Anti Police-Terror Project)

A video uploaded by Oakland activist group Anti Police-Terror Project today shows Sergeant D. Shelby of the Alameda County Sheriff playing a Taylor Swift song during a conversation with protesters. That might sound innocent enough. But in the video, Shelby said his intention was to get the video taken down from YouTube for featuring Swift’s copyrighted material. That’s despite the fact that the public has a right to record police officers doing their jobs. Now, he’s being investigated for his actions.

The interaction took place on the steps of the Oakland courthouse on Tuesday during a pre-trial hearing for Jason Fletcher, the former police officer accused of shooting Steven Taylor in a Walmart in 2020. In the video, Shelby can be seen telling protesters from the Anti Police-Terror Project to move their banners. When APTP policy director James Burch questioned his reasoning, Shelby took out his cell phone and hit play on “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift.

Incredulous, Burch asked him if this he was starting a dance party. “I’m playing my music so you can’t post it on YouTube,” Shelby said.

He was referring to YouTube’s automated copyright ID system, which detects unauthorized use of protected material and removes infringing content. So far, Anti Police-Terror Project’s video remains on the platform. Earlier this year, Vice reported that Beverly Hills police attempted a similar maneuver: an officer played Sublime when an L.A. activist filmed him while attempting to get answers about a ticket.

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Shelby’s colleague, Sergeant Ray Kelly, told KTVU that Shelby has been reported to internal affairs. “[This] is not something we condone or approve. We have a code of conduct all officers must follow,” Kelly said.

Chessie Thacher, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union Northern California, says Shelby’s actions in the video appeared to violate the protesters’ First Amendment rights in multiple ways.

“What I see when I see that video is the police officer first interfering with people’s ability to protest,” Thacher says. “And then I see a police officer who is also attempting to interfere with the First Amendment right to access criminal court proceedings.”

Thacher added that courts of appeal across the country have affirmed the public’s right to record police. “And police are now trying to get around this right by using copyright laws as a funny shield to prevent their poor conduct from being more widely seen,” Thacher added. “[It’s] really just shameful.”