A self-described Missouri “cop watcher” was tackled to the ground by police officers as he filmed them responding to a call in Springfield, Missouri, last month.
Terry Rucker, a 35-year-old Black man, shared video from the Nov. 26 encounter on Facebook and YouTube and it went viral on several social media pages. Now the two Springfield Police Department officers involved are being investigated by the police department’s internal affairs unit.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams launched the internal affairs review “to determine if there was a violation of Springfield Police Department policy,” agency spokeswoman Jasmine Bailey said in an email Wednesday.
But that may not be their only concerns. Rucker said he plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against the Springfield Police Department and has been in talks with the law firm of prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.
He told Atlanta Black Star on Wednesday, Dec, 9, that he has regularly recorded police officers out in public for years.
“I’ve been recording the police more regularly this year,” Rucker said. “Most of the time, it was just I would record my interactions with the police. Then I stepped up to start recording other people’s interactions with the police. And then I stepped up a little bit more and started doing First Amendment audits, where I go into public places and just record maybe like a post office or a police department or any places public that I can record.
“They don’t necessarily always like that,” he explained. “But it’s a constitutionally protected activity, so they can either respect it or they don’t.”
Rucker’s latest confrontation occurred at the scene of a Nov. 26 death investigation outside a home along West Elm Street.
Rucker live streamed an eight-minute, 13-second video on YouTube that showed him standing across the street from the home recording the officers. Four police vehicles are seen parked along the block. Rucker explains in the video that he was driving near his mother’s home on Thanksgiving and stopped to find out what was going on when he saw all the police lights.
He initially thought they were responding to a burglary. About five minutes into the video, he approached Officer Harold Millirons, a 19-year veteran who was sitting in his police cruiser.
“Everything okay here?” Rucker asked. “Anything we need to let the world know about? We got a killer on the loose? I know there was a robbery over there the other day near my mom’s—”
“There’s nothing for you to worry about,” Millirons interjected.
In his report, Millirons said he was talking to the medical examiner when he noticed Rucker standing across the street filming officers, police vehicles and family members of the deceased who were standing in a driveway outside. The officer wrote that he recognized the man from previous run-ins, noting that Rucker is known to be “armed and dangerous,” has threatened police with violence several times in the past and had multiple “flags” in the department’s system for “hating police.” The report went on to allege that Rucker regularly films Springfield police and Greene County sheriff’s deputies in attempts “to provoke officers into civil rights violations.”
After the brief exchange with Millirons, Rucker stepped back across the street as he continued videotaping the scene. Moments later, Timur Dzhabbarov, another officer at the scene, entered the fray. Dzhabbarov walked to Millirons’ vehicle and the two spoke briefly, then he turned and approached Rucker. Dzhabbarov, who was hired in March 2019, told Rucker he was interfering with the officers’ investigation and asked him to film from an intersection further down the road.
The area was not roped off with any crime scene tape at the time.
Rucker told Dzhabbarov he was standing on public property, not interfering, and had a right to film. He and the officer went back and forth for 38 seconds before Millirons emerged from his cruiser.
“Just let him go, he’s going to whine and b—h about it,” the veteran officer advised Dzhabbarov.
In his report, Millirons said he told Rucker that officers were conducting a death investigation and he asked him to stop filming because he was beginning to disturb the deceased’s grieving family members.
But video showed Millirons walk straight up to Rucker, tell him “There’s a dead body inside. We’re trying to (get) that done, you’re being totally disrespectful,” then snatch Rucker’s cell phone out of his hands.
That set off a few frenzied moments with Rucker screaming “Please don’t grab my phone; what are you doing?” as Millirons and Dzhabbarov wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him.
“You’ve got to get that out of my face man, I thought you were trying to assault me,” Millirons could be heard saying on the video after the two officers took Rucker to the ground.
Millirons, in his report, indicated it was Rucker who approached him and put his cell phone eight to 12 inches from the officer’s face. One of the officers is heard on the video telling him his “phone could be used as an assaulting tool.” Rucker claims he was simply tilting his phone up to put Millirons in frame for his recording.
“Because of Rucker’s past history, I was not going to allow him this close to me,” Millirons wrote in his report. “It was not due to him filming, but for safety reasons.”
He said Rucker fell to his knees as the two officers grabbed his arms. The phone fell to the ground during the exchange and Millirons stopped the YouTube Live recording.
Millirons returned to the squad car and checked Rucker for warrants, according to his report. Rucker had none. The officer then explained to Rucker that he had no issue with him filming officers, but said that he objected to him “placing the camera in my face and attempting to provoke a response.”
Rucker was not charged or injured. Officers removed the handcuffs and let him go.
He said that was after they left him in the mud for about five minutes. He also claimed Millirons threw him across a yard, slapped him, and called him a “f–king troublemaker” after he stopping his recording.
Rucker posted the video on Facebook and uploaded it to his AmericanCitizens Too page on YouTube. Other First Amendment auditors spread the video on their platforms.
“The things that I do are legally protected and they’re for the betterment of the community, and that’s to hold the police accountable,” Rucker said. “Nobody likes to be held accountable, especially people who are in positions who believe that they have rights that nobody else has. Who believe that everybody is supposed to do exactly what they say when they say it.”
Rucker acknowledged that he has felony convictions in his past, but he said he’s never been violent toward law enforcement and said he didn’t threaten Millirons or Dzhabbarov with his phone during the Nov. 26 incident.
“There was a time where I wasn’t the person I am today,” he said. “I’ve done seven years in prison. You know, I’ve done walked down probation, I’ve been graduated drug court. I’ve got all of that stuff behind me. So now, I’m a regular citizen who, having seen the error of his ways, wants to create a better community for my daughter.”
Rucker said police assaulted and arrested him on two separate occasions in June while he was filming officers. He said he filed complaints with the Springfield Police Department, but both were dismissed. He insists that his Constitutional rights have been violated and is calling for officers involved in all three incidents to be fired.
“I mean, the only thing that we have as citizens of this country to fight back against the police really is recording them and holding them accountable,” Rucker said. “That’s all we can do at this point, take them through the courts and all that stuff. And the courts tend to bias towards the police. But if there’s enough video evidence, then sometimes people get lucky.”