It was in a back alley, after a violent arrest, when a TV producer for the show COPS made a request to Glendale Officer Matthew Schneider.
The camera crew, who had specifically requested to ride along with the notorious officer, had enough footage of the arrest but not enough about the suspect.
“To try and make this work, because there’s just a lot of running and no one knows why we’re running. You catch him. He’s in the bushes,” said a COPS producer, who then asks Schneider bring the suspect in front of the camera for an interview and suggests questions. “When you can get that chance, we need to talk (to the suspect), have that heart-to-heart, ‘Why you running? Why were you in prison for the first time?’ All that s***.”
Schneider immediately replied, “You want to do it right now?”
“Whenever you can,” the producer said. “At some point before he’s out of play, that heart-to-heart, all that bulls***. ‘Are you OK man? You should have stopped. You know, I was right behind you.’”
Schneider then called over to a fellow officer to bring the suspect over. Schneider sits him down on the curb and questions him in front of the camera.
The police interview aired on nationally syndicated television.
“Honestly, it’s quite disturbing,” said Jared Keenan, an attorney with ACLU Arizona, who agreed to watch the COPS segment and more than 30 minutes of body camera videos. “They should not be making decisions based on what a TV crew tells them to do.”
Officer Schneider made international headlines earlier this year when ABC15 exposed how he and other officers repeatedly tasered a man during a traffic stop. For the final tasering, Schneider pulled down the handcuffed man’s shorts and stunned him in the testicles for five seconds, according to a federal lawsuit.
The behind-the-scenes conversation between Schneider and a COPS producer, which did not air on the show, was captured on heavily redacted and blurred body camera footage obtained by ABC15.
The body camera video pulls back the curtain on how the reality TV crew worked with Glendale police to create the segment. It also raises serious issues regarding civil rights, excessive force, police ethics, and the unlawful redaction of public records, Keenan said.
“The public should come away with just a foul taste in their mouth,” the ACLU Arizona attorney said. “The cops don’t care about this gentleman. It appears they are just trying to make good TV.”
Glendale police did not agree to a on-camera interview request. But a spokesperson denied the allegation.
“We strongly deny and protest your misrepresentation of these events,” wrote Lt. Jay O’Neill. “At no time are Glendale officers working together with producers to stage anything. Our officers are never concerned with ‘making a better show.’ They are going about their police business as they would on any normal day, with or without cameras.”
The arrest happened on March 29, 2017.
Schneider did not turn on his body camera at the beginning of the incident. But the officer did give an interview to COPS, which aired portions of his comments and recorded video of the beginning of the incident.
“We saw a suspicious subject hanging out in front of an apartment complex on 43rd Avenue and Bethany Home Road, which is a busy area,” Schneider said. “We decided to make contact with him. And immediately thereafter, he dropped his backpack and took off running from us.”
The suspect, who was not named on the show, is Christopher Bryant.
The TV segment shows Schneider attempt to fire a taser in the suspect’s back as he flees the officers. On the show, they claimed Bryant reached for his waistband.
The video aired on COPS does not appear to show that, Keenan said.
“That sort of phrase ‘reaching for one’s waistband’ is one often used by police to sort of justify the later use of force when they do capture somebody,” he said. “They can always fall back on the excuse that they feared for their lives.”
The TV show aired video of officers unsuccessfully searching an apartment complex for Bryant. The segment then cuts to video of a K9 biting the suspect in a bush at another complex.
There are a handful of officers who also swarm Bryant with rifles pointed at him and watch as the dog tears at his shoulder for about 30 seconds, according to the COPS video.
“You have a man who posed no danger to police being mauled by a dog very close to his neck,” Keenan said. “The whole situation just seems like an escalation of violence that seemed uncalled for in the situation.”
Christopher Bryant had an outstanding corrections department warrant for not checking in with his parole officer, records show.
He had been recently released from prison for marijuana and drug paraphernalia charges.
Glendale did not charge him with any additional crimes.
PUBLIC RECORDS CONCERNS
ABC15 obtained Officer Schneider’s body camera footage through a public records request.
The department heavily redacted the video – critical moments were entirely blurred and more than half of the audio from the footage is silenced.
Keenan and other public records experts said the redaction is excessive and violates Arizona public record laws.
Glendale police said they heavily blurred the entire frame of the body camera video because of “mutliple undercover officers on the scene.”
Some of the key redactions in the body camera footage include:
- The suspect’s name and face are redacted in the video even though that information is public record.
- Clear video of Bryant’s face also appeared on COPS.
- Video of the dog biting Bryant and officers arresting him is heavily blurred.
- For about three minutes before Schneider suddenly sprints toward the dog attacking Bryant, he and other officers are standing a short distance away. The video during this period is heavily blurred and the audio is silenced.
“This is clearly a public record,” Keenan said. “The public should see what their police officers are doing and to blur it out like this makes absolutely no sense... There’s absolutely no reason to blur it out.”
COPS TV LOVES SCHNEIDER
The Glendale Police Department has worked with COPS to air segments on multiple occasions dating back to 2014.
Officer Schneider has starred in several of those segments.
He’s listed on the show’s website as a “top cop.” And Schneider’s been specifically requested to appear on the show, records show.
Glendale also gave him high praise for his work with the show.
“The COPS crew specifically asked to ride with officer Schneider because of his personality and drive,” according to Schneider’s 2017 annual review. “I appreciate Officer Schneider's professionalism while working with this crew who sees a lot of different departments and officers and have commented on many occasions about riding with Officer Schneider.”
Keenan, the ACLU attorney, reviewed the other COPS segments featuring Schneider. He said they also reveal “clear constitutional violations.”
In one video, Schneider and his partner claim to see a bicyclist riding the wrong way on a neighborhood street – a civil traffic violation. After he entered an apartment, the officers attempt to kick in the door just feet from an infant in a stroller.
Seconds later, the door opened and officers pulled their weapons on a man who’s not the bicyclist. Schneider orders the man out of the apartment. He complies. As he walks through the door, Schneider intentionally trips him as the other officer knocks him onto the ground.
During an interview on the show, Schneider’s partner, Officer Pittman, said many people in the area are a “hesitant society” because they don’t offer up information during stops or arrests.
“If cops routinely violated the constitutional rights of white people in Glendale by entering their homes, those areas would also be 'hesitant' when police showed up,” Keenan said.
In another video, Schneider and the same partner tell a man he’s being stopped for not walking on the sidewalk.
However, the COPS video shows there is no sidewalk on the small road.
The officers claim to find a small black bag with drugs on the man. Officer Schneider opens and touches the drugs with his bare hands, according to the COPS segment.
Glendale police approve final footage before it airs. A spokesperson confirmed that the department’s new chief, Chris Briggs, is one of the officials who approved video of the dog biting incident.
The incident involving Christopher Bryant, in which COPS producers direct Officer Schneider to stage an interview, happened four months before the notorious tasering incident.
The man in that case, Johnny Wheatcroft, has hired attorneys and is suing Glendale police in federal court.
“The assault and battery of Plaintiff Johnny Wheatcroft was unlawful, unprovoked, unwarranted, unjustified, callous, depraved, vicious, and evil,” according to his lawsuit.
It’s one of several troubling abuses of force exposed by ABC15 in recent months. Others include: A sergeant tasering a man in the chest even though his arms were clearly raised; an officer who repeatedly struck and tasered a mentally-disabled man; and an officer who pointed loaded firearms in the face of a fellow colleague inside a police substation.
In statements, Glendale has denied that it has a culture problem.
However, the department has recently stated that it’s working to improve transparency and will change the way it disciplines officers to better reflect the expectations of the community.
Glendale strongly denies anything was inappropiate in the COPS incident involving the producer and Schneider.
FULL GLENDALE POLICE RESPONSE
Glendale did not agree to an on-camera interview request to review the video and offer explanations and comments.
But spokesman Lt. Jay O’Neill sent ABC15 the following statement in advance of ABC15’s report.
First, you repeatedly say that the officer was engaging with a “producer”. The only COPS personnel travelling with the officer was a cameraman and audio engineer. There were no “producers” on scene during any of the time COPS was filming with Glendale PD. The COPS cameraman captured the footage and sent it back to the station for producers to edit and package.
[Editor’s note: The COPS employee referenced in the previous paragraph lists himself as an associate producer on his own LinkedIn profile. It’s not clear why Glendale is challenging this fact.]
Further, you are reporting that the body camera footage “gives a behind-the-scenes look at how he and a COPS producer worked together to stage a suspect interview and make the show better”. Again, we strongly deny and protest your misrepresentation of these events. At no time are Glendale officers working together with producers to stage anything. Our officers are never concerned with “making a better show”. They are going about their police business as they would on any normal day, with or without cameras.
To justify your story, you refer to a comment from the COPS cameramen about filming an interview with the suspect. Our police officers always interview suspects once they have the scene secured and managed. As you know from viewing the footage, there was a lot going on during this recorded incident, so there was a period of time before our officer could conduct the interview with the suspect. The COPS cameraman’s comments were simply taken as a reminder that COPS wanted to film the interview when the officer is able to do it. Our officers did not conduct an interview because they were asked to, they always conduct one.
Your attempt at an expose which “pulls back the curtain on how the reality-TV show crew worked with Glendale officers to create the segment” is misleading and factually untrue.
You also state “It also raises serious issues regarding civil rights, excessive force, police ethics, and the unlawful redaction of public records”. These are very serious accusations, all made without providing background information and without waiting for a response from the City. We believe this is unfair and inappropriate.
We respectfully request that you review our answers and ask that your story tonight be factually correct.
UPDATE: Under questions from ABC15 challenging the amount of the heavily-blurred video and silenced audio, Glendale police agreed to let station journalists review unredacted footage of the incident.
The redacted material includes officers congratulating each other for their use-of-force and joking about the TV footage and ratings.
One section of the video also silenced audio when Officer Schneider tells a fellow officer, “That’s what happens when I run out of steam. Dude, I give up and go to the Taser.”
ABC15 told police officials Thursday morning that they believe much of the audio should not be withheld and made available for the public otherwise the station would consider legal action.
A spokesperson called later in the day to say that Chief Briggs authorized the release of more of the audio/video, and it would be made available in the coming days.
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 30, 2019: Glendale police released a less redacted copy of two body camera videos from the incident, including roughly 20 minutes of previously silenced audio. Watch the footage in the players embedded below.
ABC15 is committed to Taking Action and continuing our coverage of this topic. If you have any comments or questions, contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org .