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Days After Putting LAPD On Blast, L.A.’s Top ‘Cop-Watcher’ Is Charged With Rare Eavesdropping Crime

7:47 AM PST on February 4, 2022

    William Gude AKA Film The Police LA in Hollywood. October 2021 (Lexis-Olivier Ray)

    Days after blowing the whistle on a misleading sign posted to the front door of LAPD Wilshire Division Station, falsely blaming a COVID-related staff shortage on “defunding.” Prolific cop-watcher, William Gude, was charged with a crime. In two years Gude has filed hundreds of complaints against LAPD officers. In 10 months he's faced charges five times.

    In a letter from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, received last month, authorities alleged that Gude violated California’s eavesdropping law - which generally makes it illegal to record a phone call or private conversation without consent.

    The allegations are in reference to a phone call with LAPD Sgt. Chao, a supervisor who handles complaints about the department. Gude reached out to Chao last year to discuss a mask complaint against an officer. The department determined that the officers' actions could have been different but they didn't sustain the complaint or discipline the officer. Gude openly admits he taped the roughly 45-minute conversation and has posted portions online.

    During the call, the supervisor says that Chief Moore ruled that "even though [not wearing a mask] is technically misconduct, that type of allegation does not result in any punitive action of discipline against the accused officer."

    The letter from the city attorney was composed the same day that we published a story on the sign posted to the front door of Wilshire Station, sparking an internal investigation that found a cop was behind the notice and rebuke from Chief Michel Moore, who called the actions “inappropriate.”

    A day after receiving the letter, on January 26, Gude was expected to appear at an “office hearing” by phone. The notice warned that not showing up could result in the filing of a criminal complaint.

    According to Gude, during the hearing, a hearing officer “lectured” him about taping calls with cops without permission before explaining that prosecutors reserved the right to bring charges against him if there is a repeat offense before June 30. “[The charges] are sort of hanging over my head,” Gude told us this week.

    Gude contends that he had the right to record the call.

    Under the state’s eavesdropping law, conversations can be recorded without consent if they are made in public, during government proceedings or if the participants expect they will be overheard or recorded. 

    “My name is ‘Film the Police LA.’ If you’re a cop conversing [with] me in an official capacity, there’s a reasonable likelihood I’m recording you,” Gude defended himself on Twitter, where he has more than 20,000 followers.

    He questions the timing of the allegations. In less than a year, he’s been arrested four times and charged with a crime on five occasions. During that same time period, he’s filed hundreds of complaints against LAPD officers. Gude chronicles his work on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, where he has more than 39,000 followers and regularly communicates with LAPD brass via email.

    Weeks earlier, city and county prosecutors declined to file charges against Gude for allegedly threatening an unhoused man. In late September, Gude was arrested while filming a police stop for allegedly threatening to punch an unhoused man and burn their tent down. Gude — who lives in Hollywood and regularly files complaints against Hollywood officers — alleged that the arrest was retaliation for his activism.

    In November, the district attorney’s office declined to charge Gude because there were no independent witnesses to corroborate the claims made by police, according to a memo obtained by the L.A. Times. The city attorney’s office similarly declined to charge Gude due to “insufficient evidence.”

    Gude suspects that Chief Moore was directly involved with the latest scheme to charge him with eavesdropping. “Yes. Absolutely. 100%,” he responds when asked. “My lawyers felt that the city attorney required this [hearing] as a courtesy to Moore and to send me a message.”

    Chief Moore and a spokesperson for the LAPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week.

    Facing misdemeanor charges for illegally recording a phone call or private conversation is rare. Two out of three cases presented to the Los Angeles City Attorney by the LAPD in the past five years were rejected.

    According to a data analysis of Los Angeles City Attorney records by L.A. TACO, between 2016 and 2021, the LAPD presented 36 cases for misdemeanor charges. Only five cases were filed and seven resulted in a hearing.

    Out of the cases that were filed, one case reportedly involved an assault with a firearm, two cases were eventually dismissed and we couldn’t determine the outcomes of the two remaining filings.

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