(July 21) -- When Agnes Lawless was arrested on charges of assaulting a Philadelphia police officer, she protested that it was the cop who had
attacked her. He grabbed her from behind and thrust a gun against her neck, she said.
Three of Lawless' friends and a convenience store clerk backed her story, but the judge was inclined to believe the officer -- until the video
It's an inescapable fact of modern life: An increasing number of businesses and even private homes have security cameras. An increasing number of
people have cameras or video recorders on their cell phones. An increasing number of police patrol cars are equipped with video cameras. Whatever you
are doing, chances are it's being recorded.
And those omnipresent cameras can be a double-edged sword for police. While officers can use video to identify suspects, any police misconduct may
also end up on videotape.
"More and more police officers are understanding that this could affect them," said Jack McDevitt, associate dean of the College of Criminal Justice
at Northeastern University in Boston.
In Lawless' case, security cameras inside a Lukoil convenience store in Northeast Philadelphia captured her Aug. 17, 2008, confrontation with police
Officer Alberto Lopez Sr. Lopez said he arrested Lawless, then 20, when the young woman "flipped out" and began striking out at him.
But security video shows Lawless standing at the store counter when Lopez approaches from behind and shoves a gun against her neck, then punches her
in the face.
"He hit me with his left hand, and he had his gun in his right hand," Lawless told the Philadelphia Daily News. "He pushed his gun into the left
side of my neck. It caused a scrape-type bruise on my neck."
Lawless and her friends said the officer screamed at her, "''You think you can hit my son and get away with it, you think you can f--- with
About 20 minutes before the confrontation, Lawless and her friends had been involved in a fender-bender with Lopez's son.
The convenience store clerk told authorities that first Lopez and then two other police officers visited the store and asked him to erase the security
tape. Instead, the tape was turned over to police Internal Affairs investigators.
Charges against Lawless were dropped. Lopez faces a disciplinary hearing. Lawless is contemplating a suit against the city.
Ever since a bystander videotaped Los Angeles police officers beating black motorist Rodney King in 1991, police officers have been aware that Big
Brother could be watching. So what makes some cops lose their cool on camera?
"Their emotions get the best of them," said Rande Matteson, chairman of the criminal justice department at Saint Leo University in Florida.
"There's no excuse for their behavior, but it's emotion. It's adrenaline."
In some cases, an officer may believe he can get around any video evidence. "For a few officers, it's so ingrained in who they are and what they
do," McDevitt said. "They think they can just lie their way out of it and nobody will notice."
Cops can't be trusted.