MAUREPAS — Tracy Dickens was sitting at home the morning of Sept. 26 when a Maurepas Volunteer Fire Department truck flipped near her property while speeding on La. 22.
Dickens pulled out her smartphone — a pricey Nokia Lumia 1020 — to film emergency crews flipping the truck back upright.
That’s when things got dicey.
Dickens’ video shows a firefighter from the Maurepas Volunteer Fire Department walking up to Dickens’ front yard patio deck, instructing her to stop filming the incident.
Dickens didn’t get everything on video. But she said another firefighter, along with a State Police trooper, also demanded she stop filming.
She said she was even threatened with jail time if she didn’t stop.
Dickens, who has lived in Maurepas for about a year, was adamant in her right to continue filming the crash scene although she eventually stopped in the midst of her dealings with the firefighters and trooper.
Dickens said the accident didn’t technically happen on her property.
A ditch separates the highway and her property line, and her front yard spans about 60 yards before reaching her home.
“There is no law in the state of Louisiana governing us video taping from our own” property things that are happening in public view, she said.
Marjorie Esman, ACLU Louisiana executive director, said Dickens’ run-in represents a bigger issue: law enforcement authorities, usually police officers, routinely telling citizens they can’t film incidents or crime scenes, even when they’re not interfering with the scene.
People have reported at least five similar incidents to the ACLU’s Louisiana chapter since 2010, according to statistics provided by the organization.
Esman said the only way Dickens could have been out of line was if she was in the way of the scene or was somehow interfering with the investigation.
“It’s a serious problem, not just in Louisiana, but across the country, public officials thinking that the public does not have the right, which they do have, to film what public officials are doing, as long as they are not interfering with a crime scene,” Esman said.
Dickens said she was only trying to film the truck being flipped upright because she thought it was cool. She said she noticed other members of the Fire Department filming the incident, possibly for their own investigation.
To their credit, Dickens said, State Police quickly apologized for the incident. She said the trooper even met her at her old home in Gonzales to deliver a personal apology.
“All I wanted was an apology,” Dickens said.
Capt. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, confirmed Dickens called State Police about the incident and the trooper and his supervisors apologized to her.
Cain said the trooper simply misinterpreted the law and there should never be issues with people filming incidents from private property, or in public at all.
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Cain said. “That’s just how we do business.”
Dickens said she also called the Maurepas Volunteer Fire Department seeking an apology.
Dickens said the department’s chief, Samantha Breaud, came off as combative and informed her she would have to submit any complaints in writing.
Breaud declined comment Wednesday, citing an ongoing investigation of the incident.
She also said she had not seen Dickens’ video.
“I have not seen any video of any wrongdoing from my staff,” Breaud said.
Dickens said she called the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office asking them to arrest the firefighters for trespassing but that they refused to make any arrests.
“That is trespass,” Dickens said. “I don’t care who you are. I don’t care where you live.”
Lori Steele, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said deputies determined the firefighters were not trespassing on Dickens’ property, and committed no crimes at all, because they were in the middle of conducting an official investigation.
Steele said Dickens only told deputies that the firefighters were being rude and not necessarily that they committed a crime.
“There were no criminal acts or anything that we could follow up on,” Steele said. “They had a legal right to be there.”