BAY COUNTY, FLORIDA- November 13th, 2021– Jason Gutterman and his son travel the country filming from public locations. Primarily to educate public officials and law enforcement about freedom of the press through their YouTube channels, Amagansett Press, and Watching the Watchmen.
Backstory of the Arrest
On November 11th, 2021, Gutterman and his son were filming a UPS building in Bay County, Florida. As they often do, law enforcement was called to inquire about what he was filming and why. The first officer did not know what to do, and soon another officer arrived on the scene, one Deputy Sergeant Ralph Grainger.
Grainger informed Gutternman that because there was a school zone within 500 yards, he could arrest him for being in the area without cause. To which Gutterman replied: “That doesn’t sound very constitutional.”
While the officer at first seemed uncertain about whether the statute was indeed applicable in the situation. After going discussing the statute further, he ‘confirmed’ it was.
When Gutterman refused to leave after this revelation and could not manifest a “press pass,” Sergent Grainger promptly arrested him. And told his fellow officer to arrest Gutterman’s son, who was never asked to leave.
Complaint Dropped Due to Unconstitutionally Vague Law
The complaint filed by the officer was 810.097 School safety zones; definition; trespass prohibited. As things turned out, the statute was indeed ruled unlawful in federal court for being unconstitutionally vague in 2008. In the case Gray v. Kohl.
Gutterman was released on bond, and his son (a minor at the time) was released to his mother’s custody. Three days later, their attorney got their charges dropped due to the previously established case law.
Bay County Police Say They Will Improve Training
The day the footage was released to the public on YouTube. The Bay County Sheriffs office released a statement on Facebook stating:
“The Bay County Sheriff’s Office remains committed to constitutional policing, and protecting the rights of the people we were. Our deputies have received specialized training to ensure they protect constitutional rights and, in light of this incident, we will be adding to our training curriculum.”
One of the goals of many first amendment auditors like Gutterman and his son is to educate the public and their officials about the right to record in public spaces. Gutterman took to first amendment auditing after years as a journalist. Having seen how ignorant the public was to the right to film in public, he became active in defending said right. So if the Bay County Sheriff’s improve their training, as a result, that is a step in the right direction.
To date, Gutterman has NEVER been arrested in the many encounters he has had with police. This is uncommon because first amendment auditors are detained frequently—for example, three first amendment auditors in Mesa, Arizona.