Antonio Buehler Wants Peaceful Streets for Everyone
An unfortunate encounter with overly aggressive cops in Austin, Texas has led to a small silver lining -- the creation of the Peaceful Streets Project.
I first became familiar with Antonio Buehler and the details of his run-in with the Austin, Texas Police Department in the early hours of New Years' Day during the first week of January 2012 when he appeared on Alex Jones' show to discuss his story. This one really caught my attention.
Antonio's gotten used to retelling the story to help raise awareness of this grim encounter, so I'll center on his account:
At some point after 1:00 AM on the morning of January 1, 2012, he and a friend were driving home from a New Years' Eve party in Austin, Texas when Antonio, the designated driver that evening, stopped for gas on the corner of 10th Street and Lamar Blvd. While refueling his vehicle he heard a scream and says he observed a young woman being dragged from the passenger's seat of a nearby automobile that had been stopped for a DWI check by Austin police. Alarmed that the officers, Patrick Oborski and Robert Snider, were intentionally inflicting pain on Norma Pizana, the woman who'd been riding with driver Ashley Nicole Hill, by yanking her arms behind her then lifting her by the arms in a 'torture position' and dragging her, Antonio began taking photos of the scene with his cell phone camera, some of which are visible in the accompanying video. Upon noticing that they were being photographed when Antonio loudly called out to them to ask why they were hurting the woman, Officer Oborski turned his attention toward him. Leaving Ms. Pizana (who by now had seen Antonio and his friend photographing the scene and begged them to "please film this") and striding over to him, Officer Oborski demanded to know who Antonio thought he was and why he was taking pictures. When Antonio replied...raising his voice to match Officer Oborski's shouts but making no aggressive moves of his own...that since Oborski was a public official exercising his authority in a public place, photography in this circumstance was his right and duty, Oborski was not mollified. He told Antonio that he was interfering with his investigation and at that point shoved him in the chest, pushing him against the rear of a truck. Officer Oborski then began leaning in to Antonio's face and actually forcing him to bend backwards over the truck bed with his hands alternatively on Antonio's shoulders and arms (which were still spread non aggressively outwards, his hands open and visibly empty) while he continued shouting.
At this moment, Officer Oborski claimed that Antonio spit in his face, pulled and pushed him from the truck to get him off balance, and put him on the ground. More officers hurried to assist Oborski and Antonio soon found himself handcuffed and in an arm lock by one of those officers, who began slamming his elbow painfully. After seeing Norma Pizana's treatment at these officers' hands, and sensing that they might now be attempting to dislocate his elbow and injure him, Antonio asked them directly: "Are you trying to break my arm?"
I found it difficult at best to accept the premise that a man surrounded by armed and keyed-up police officers as Antonio was would impulsively spit in the face of Officer Oborski at this point. The visual evidence we see that came forth later consistently indicates that he was trying to de-escalate the encounter and go out of his way to demonstrate he was no threat to anyone. Antonio put up no resistance, while expressing an indignation consistent with being dragged into a potentially violent confrontation with the officers for the non-crime of interposing himself in an effort to stop the intimidation and torture of Norma Pizana by these same officers. More on this a bit later.
Minutes later, Antonio was put in a police cruiser and driven to the nearby BAT Bus where he was informed he'd be subjected to a blood alcohol test because "you've been drinking and driving." This immediately alerted Antonio to the nature of the scenario developing around him, as he'd been refueling his parked vehicle at the start of the fracas, having had no interaction with the police before investigating the scream from Ms Pizana. As the designated driver, he knew he hadn't been drinking. Realizing that the officers had taken an adversarial stance and were now trying to fabricate some charge that would stick, he laughingly agreed to take their blood alcohol test. After blowing into the breathalyzer twice, he was told there were no results forthcoming because he "blew too hard and broke" the machine. How convenient.
Next, as Antonio tells it, he was escorted to the waiting paddy wagon by Officer Oborski, who told him he was being 'taught a lesson' about the hazards of getting in the way of the police. Soon after this, Antonio Buehler found himself booked in jail, the charge: felony harassment of a public official based on the moment where he allegedly spit on Officer Oborski, a charge that could potentially put him in prison for up to ten years.
Things looked rather dismal for Antonio when he was released after almost 16 hours in jail; after all, the only evidence he had to corroborate his story were a few photos snapped from a cell phone of Ms. Pizana's treatment at the hands of Officers Oborski and Snider. As we've seen though, more information was available. In response to notifications on Twitter and Facebook along with flyers posted by Antonio and his friends seeking witnesses willing to testify on his behalf or provide further recordings of the critical exchange, one man stepped forward to provide the video footage you've seen, taken from a point across the street from the 7-11. In it, we see that far from being 'in his face' as Officer Oborski claimed in the sworn affadavit he filed after the arrest, Antonio maintained an inoffensive posture at all times, even when Oborski had him bent backwards over the truck that's visible in the frame.
As for the alleged spitting, have a look at another video that uses close-ups and slow motion to examine the cell phone video moment by moment. Officer Oborski claims that after Antonio spat on him, he wiped his face off before wrestling Antonio to the ground, allegedly telling him then that he was under arrest for harassment of a public official. I see no evidence of this spitting and wiping; on the contrary, I see a very aggressive official literally bending Antonio backwards, getting in his face, his posture more reminiscent of a barely restrained attack dog than a professional peace officer.
Appearing also in this video is another eyewitness, Carlos Amador, who also supports Antonio's story based on what he saw while walking out of the 7-11. Beyond that, if as Officer Oborski claims he arrested Antonio for harassment of a public official then and there, why was Antonio driven to that BAT Bus for a blood alcohol test unless these officers were specifically fishing for another charge to apply to him?
I've been researching this incident for a couple of weeks, and there has been activity in this case in the intervening months. There have been no further official court proceedings involving Antonio Buehler, but a recent internal affairs investigation by the Austin Police Department cleared Officers Oborski and Snider of any improprieties. In a letter from the police department dated on June 15, Antonio was informed of this finding, as well as the fact that he would be forbidden to “view, posses or receive copies of the Internal Affairs Division’s investigation.”
From what I've seen of this case, I'd be appalled by the behavior of the two officers involved just from hearing the audio from the cell phone video, the still photos of Ms. Pizano subjected to being put in a 'torture position,' and watching Officer Oborski's frighteningly aggressive posture and actions in the video. These alarming incidents have been on the rise in recent years, with too many examples of the sudden initiation of violence against innocent citizens. From cyclists who merely happened to be in the wrong officer's view at the wrong time, to obviously orchestrated savage attacks that have left people dead, as we saw with the case of Kelly Thomas, a mildly disturbed homeless man who was beaten and Tased to death by several officers about a year ago, State sanctioned violence has been used against ordinary citizens in an arbitrary and capricious manner, especially those who appear to be ordinary schnooks that these officials assume they can abuse with impunity.
And here's the kicker: Antonio Buehler is no ordinary schnook, his resume is not only impressive but an indicator of his credibility. A West Point graduate, Antonio served in the Army in Iraq, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. Returning home he earned his MBA from Stanford's graduate school and spent time in New York as an investment banker. An entrepreneur in the educational field today, he is a well rounded, articulate and intelligent man. What he is not is an easy target...I'd have to say these officers picked the wrong mark this time.
I was fortunate enough to have Antonio grant a few minutes of his time speaking with me on the phone last week for some follow-up and comments on his case. He seems a bit wary of the publicity this incident's brought into his life, a man not entirely comfortable with the celebrity and notoriety accompanying his role in the ongoing narrative. When I asked him about Officer Oborski's chuckle heard in the dash cam video that was reviewed by the internal affairs investigation but not released to the public, Antonio laughed himself and confirmed that Oborski had indeed chuckled after thinking for a few moments, then stating "you just spit in my face," which makes perfect sense if he'd been trying to think up a charge to hit Antonio with and the idea of felony harassment had just occurred to him, but makes no sense at all if he actually had just been spat upon. As Antonio said, "If someone spits in your face, do you chuckle?”
Another item Antonio related to me was that he's had some intelligence regarding one aspect of this case: the supposedly 'broken' breathalyzer used after his encounter with the Austin PD apparently stayed in use for the rest of the evening. Again, that makes sense only if there was nothing wrong with the machine and Antonio had scored a 0 on his blood alcohol test, thereby thwarting the officials' scheme to add yet another charge against him to discredit him. I haven't yet been able to find statistics published after that night showing additional DUI/DWI charges applied to people subsequent to Antonio's encounter, but if they exist as his sources have indicated they do, they could be damning to the APD's story.
After the internal affairs review that cleared Officers Oborski and Snider, Antonio took advantage of the opportunity offered him to address the Citizen Review Panel monitoring the police department to excoriate the APD as corrupt from top to bottom in civil but scathing terms, as well as calling for an independent investigation since the APD's internal affairs unit seems interested only for covering and abetting its officers who abuse their authority:
In these, Antonio details the inconsistencies we've seen with the video, the interference of the police with potential witnesses, and the fact that he, Ashley Nicole Hill and Norma Pizana were arrested on spurious charges, in his case felony harassment and resisting arrest, in Ms. Hill's DUI, and for Ms. Pizana, interference with a police officer and public intoxication...with additional charges of resisting arrest and disobeying a public official added eleven days after the fact. Does that sound like malicious harassment to you? Me too.
Thanks to the wealth of information, videos and other recordings available on the internet I've been convinced for a long time that incidents like this are everyday occurrences. These are far from the aberrations they're painted as by the mainstream media, and what scant attention they're given by that media only is seen in the very rare circumstance of an official actually being held accountable for abuse of his or her power. Antonio Buehler's story is as perfect a study in the routine abuses of power as I've seen yet. It makes plain the crucial need to re-examine America's law enforcement system owing to the often devastating effects of power in unaccountable hands. From the straightforward rent-seeking behavior of revenue enhancement by law enforcement to violent assaults and even murder of civilians, this problem is now systemic, with far too many of those charged with protecting the public actually preying on them instead. I suspect this is the reason for the APD's obfuscatory delays in letting Antonio Buehler have his day in court: They know it's a fact too.
The predatory State has especial reason to protect Officer Oborski; Mothers Against Drunk Driving named him one of their heroes just over a year ago for 'getting more than 300 drunk drivers off the streets in 2010.' This might sound like a good thing superficially but earns the officer no brownie points in my book. While the organization might have started with the best of intentions in 1980, M.A.D.D. has since earned infamy of its own by developing into yet another tool of revenue enhancement and people control for the ravenous State, as Mark Crovelli detailed in this piece from 2008, for just one example. Of course the Austin PD adores him, like an unscrupulous direct marketer Oborski has brought much filthy lucre and suckered many hundreds of fresh victims onto the plantation.
Not one to sit idly while the dismal bureaucracy of the State grinds on, Antonio Buehler has not flagged in his efforts to educate and protect the public. From this lesson in the hazards of speaking truth to power, he has turned that negative into a positive by creating the Peaceful Streets Project, an organization more focused on voluntary peaceful action instead of political solutions to this serious problem endangering many Americans. From teaching techniques in de-escalating potentially dangerous encounters to keeping people informed of their rights as Americans, the Peaceful Streets Project is a force for overcoming the entrenched system of the Establishment that's become a very real danger to the very people it's supposed to protect. It encourages the legal recording of public figures, questioning authority and in general working to both remove the clear threat of institutional violence to ordinary people by forcing accountability on government and to empower these ordinary people so they can be correctly responsible for their own safety. If you like petitions, there's an online one attempting to obtain criminal charges against the abusive officers involved, but as an anarcho-capitalist with little faith in political action I prefer Peaceful Streets' approach of developing nonviolent and voluntary proactive methods for peoples' use in their own protection. The project just held its first event on the evening of Saturday, July 14, hosting a police accountability summit and distributing 100 cameras to Austinites so they'll be prepared to record police activities in public.
Antonio and I are in agreement here: while there are many genuine peace officers out there, their own legitimate actions are being overshadowed by the atavistic behavior of too many of their fellows. Real peace officers earn their respect and do not demand reflexive obeisance from innocent people under the threat of sudden violence. Circling the wagons and covering for these thugs only detracts from decent officers' own deserved credibility, hopefully with increased public awareness we can halt or even reverse this trend.
In the end, I'm sanguine in my outlook for this case. I don't believe any reasonable person could convict Antonio of the clearly bogus charge of harassment by spitting the State's leveled at him, and the salient factors surrounding it are solid; the still photos showing the officers inflicting pain upon Ms. Pizana, the cell phone video clearly showing Oborski continually advancing aggressively on Antonio, refuting his own words that Antonio 'got in his face' as well as showing no spitting or wiping away that spit as the he swore to in his arrest report, and of course the exceptional history and character of Antonio Buehler himself.
His Peaceful Streets Project isn't limited to Austin residents; if you think your community might benefit from a program like this, Peaceful Streets can help you with advice on setting up a similar group in your own town. I'd like to see this become a widespread movement for as much of America as it can reach. It doesn't interfere with a single legitimate police function or take a hostile stance against police, but holds much promise of finally bringing accountability to those officials who would violate the public trust. Why not check out their web site, then email or call them?