NEW YORK — When his lieutenant got physical in a work-related dispute, a young NYPD officer hit the record button on his body-worn camera — and broke new ground in how the cameras are used and regulated.
Officer Christopher Schroeck, 28, turned on the body cam to record his lieutenant, Jeffery Gurley, in the lower Manhattan Public Service Area 4 stationhouse on May 31.
Gurley, 41, admitted putting his hands on the young officer’s camera as he yelled at him for being late.
The body cam video, obtained by the New York Daily News, shows the end of the blow-up, with Gurley gesturing and pointing angrily at Schroeck.
At one point, Gurley imitated Shroeck’s walk and compared his gait to that of the animated character Shrek, said a source. There’s no sound on that part of the video, but Gurley’s imitation can clearly be seen.
“Which one are you going to do? Which one are you going to do? Are you taping me on your camera?” the agitated Gurley asks. “Good. Good, cause guess what: You’re not supposed to tape me.”
The NYPD’s Patrol Guide bars cops from activating their body cameras in nonenforcement situations and to film routine activities in department facilities.
But that rule might not apply in Schroeck’s case, as Gurley’s yelling gave him good reason to turn on the camera, said employment discrimination lawyer Douglas Wigdor.
“If we accept that the officer felt threatened, that could overcome the prohibition,” said Wigdor.
“While the policy prohibits recording, it does not prohibit recording when you feel threatened,” said Jack Jaskaran, a retired NYPD captain who is now a lawyer. “If the lieutenant is engaging in physical behavior, he’s no longer a supervisor. He’s a threat, and it’s incumbent to document it.”
“The better question is, ‘Why was the supervisor acting this way?’” added Derek Smith, another employment lawyer. “I would tell (the NYPD) to stop trying to divert the attention away from that.”
“It strikes me that technology gets introduced for one purpose and then it gets used for all kinds of unintended purposes, and I don’t know why that wouldn’t apply to the police,” said Peter Brill, a lawyer who has represented cops in disciplinary cases.
Wigdor noted that even if Schroeck’s use of the camera violated the NYPD Patrol Guide, it was in line with New York state law. In a conversation, “you can record someone without their consent,” he said.
The tiff began when Schroeck was late to his post in Public Service Area 4, which patrols housing projects in lower Manhattan.
Gurley allegedly shoved Schroeck before the camera was turned on. There’s also an audio delay built into body cams, so there’s no sound for the first minute of the one-minute, 22-second video.
But the video shows Gurley and Schroeck in the stationhouse’s Safe Horizons room, where domestic violence victims and juveniles are interviewed. While there are cameras throughout the precinct, that room has no cameras.
“There’s no was reason to take him into a secluded room with no cameras,” said Jaskaran.
After Schroeck turned on the camera and the dispute moved from the Safe Horizons room into a common area, Gurley threatened to write him up for breaking rules about the camera’s use.
“Guess what — now you’re getting a CD (command discipline citation) for recording when you’re not supposed to be recording,” Gurley said. “That’s what you’re going to get a CD for. I hope that’s on camera.”
Then Gurley reached toward Schroeck.
“Don’t put your hands on me, all right?” Schroeck protested.
“I’m not touching you,” Gurley said.
“You did touch me,” Schroeck said.
“No, I didn’t. I touched your camera. I touched your camera,” Gurley shot back. “You’re getting a CD (command discipline) for discourtesy. Goodbye!”
“By all means,” Schroeck said.
“Goodbye, sir. Goodbye, sir,” Gurley said.
Gurley and a sergeant named Lachard then slapped Schroeck with command disciplines for discourtesy, being off-post and not signing the patrol log, said sources.
Over the next few days, a more contrite Gurley told cops in roll call how much he valued their work, sources said.
Schroeck declined comment. Gurley referred a call to the NYPD media office.
“The incident is under internal review,” a police spokeswoman said.
Both cops remain assigned to PSA 4.