Leon Valley, TX — Over the weekend, the chief of police for the Leon Valley Police Department called a late-afternoon press conference to address police accountability activists live-streaming officers. However, as soon as the conference began, chief Joseph Salvaggio began arresting people and then detained the entire crowd.
Over the past two months, Salvaggio has been the subject of multiple videos and independent media articles for his alleged corruption. According to the group National Association for Individual Rights, the controversy began on May 2, when Jesus Padilla was arrested while filming inside Leon Valley City Hall.
It continued into last week. As TFTP reported, multiple people were arrested for their freedom of speech last week as they desecrated a Thin Blue Line American flag.
On June 18, the group started outside in front of city hall where they flew the thin blue line flag upside down and then painted it red and tore it. The protest then moved into the building where the protesters gathered in the lobby showing police what they had done to the flag. Within minutes they were all arrested and their phones confiscated.
The press conference appears to be a likely attempt to suppress this rising but entirely legal opposition. As the conference began, Salvaggio announced the immediate arrest of one of the activists.
“First and foremost,” said Salvaggio as he walked out of city hall and approached the crowd that gathered. “Bao come over here, you’re under arrest.”
According to a press release from NAIR:
Bao Nguyen, the first person arrested at the press conference, was charged with Retaliation, a Third Degree Felony. Texas hate crime laws criminalize the act of publishing public information about police officers, such as a home address. The law also criminalizes speech that threatens police or public servants.
James Springer was also charged with Felony Retaliation. Nguyen and Springer were each released Sunday on $5,000 bond. Although police have not released official arrest affidavits, activists speculate the police used YouTube comments made by internet viewers during live videos to justify the arrests.
After arresting Nguyen, Salvaggio began to address the rest of the media, many of whom were credentialed reporters.
“Thank you for coming to Leon Valley. I totally, totally support your right to put something online, your First Amendment right,” said Salvaggio before completely negating that statement. “Everybody else, you are not free to leave… you are witnesses, every one of y’all are witnesses to the crime. Every one of your cameras, your devices, every one of them are going to be taken, every one of y’all, sit down right here.”
Salvaggio then ordered his officers to arrest every single other person in attendance, including those who tried to walk away.
“Go back and get the rest of them, get every one of them,” he said.
During the press conference, Salvaggio said the arrests were due to comments left on these live streamers’ YouTube channels that threatened police officers—as if to imply it is their fault people make threats on their channels.
“What you don’t have a right to do is be streaming things where police officers’ or anybody else’s family is being threatened,” he said. “If you stream something, you are responsible for its contents. There’s death threats on y’alls YouTube Live, and every one of y’all will be held accountable for those death threats.”
By this logic, Salvaggio should also drive to the YouTube headquarters and arrest every single person in the building.
As the press conference-turned mass arrest incident progressed, these innocent people practicing their first amendment right were detained in the heat as police refused to provide them access to water. According to NAIR, paramedics transported arrested witness Kevin Egan of Chicago, Illinois to the hospital for a heat related emergency. Egan was treated and released from Methodist Hospital later that evening.
Two others, Brian Howd and Jason Green were charged with resisting arrest, a Class A Misdemeanor, and Interfering with Duties of a Public Servant, a Class B Misdemeanor. However, having no evidence of a crime, the magistrate judge refused the charges against the two men. None of the other reporters and witnesses arrested at the press conference were charged with a crime.
“Leon Valley launched a war against citizens who are attempting to hold them accountable,” said Jack Miller, Vice President of the National Association for Individual Rights. “They arrest people regardless of what the law says they can and cannot arrest them for. They go outside of the law to retaliate against people who are protesting them.”
If all the details presented in this case are as these activists say, chief Salvaggio appears to be a runaway tyrant attempting to silence those who try to hold him accountable. He should be placed under an immediate investigation and suspended from his role as chief.
“It’s a war against free speech, it’s a war against accountability,” Miller said. Indeed, this is how freedom of speech dies.