The U.S. Marshals Service is considering banning lawmakers and the media from riding along with deputies on the job thanks to a YouTube video posted by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) earlier this year.
As TPM first reported back in March, the marshals launched an investigation after King went along with deputies on raids in New York and then posted video of his ride-along online. The video included scenes inside a suspect’s home, a violation of federal policy.
Now, a U.S. Marshals Service spokeswoman tells TPM the agency is considering banning ride-alongs altogether.
“Our policy relating to the presence of media or non-law enforcement officials during the execution of law enforcement activities is under review to ensure appropriate oversight and safeguards,” spokeswoman Carolyn Gwathmey said in a written statement. She later added that banning all ride-alongs was one of several options being weighed by the agency’s leadership.
King’s spokesman did not return a call for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
The news comes as newly obtained emails show that an unidentified marshals supervisor asked his colleagues to tailor their arrest plans because of King’s ride-along. The fugitive task force the congressman would be shadowing wanted some solid arrests.
“We have some tentative cases set up, but if you have a good case where you reasonably believe the subject can be apprehended on Monday morning, please advise as soon as possible,” the New York-New Jersey fugitive task force supervisor wrote in a email four days ahead of King’s March 12 visit. TPM obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“It is an honor and a privilege to have such an opportunity to showcase our task force,” the supervisor wrote. “All NYC Division [regional fugitive task force] members, please make every effort to attend this important briefing.”
Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who used to work as a New York City police officer and prosecutor, told TPM King put the marshals in an awkward position by bringing a videographer with him to film the raids.
O’Donnell, a self-described “big believer” in ride-alongs, said such experiences give lawmakers the opportunity to get a better sense of the needs of law enforcement. That certainly applies to King, the powerful head of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“The issue is that it should be done with discretion, obviously. Members of Congress do a lot of activities discretely and learn stuff, and it seems to me that this, like many other things, is best done low-key, and ideally warts and all,” O’Donnell said. “Bringing a camera along is sort of contrary to that.”
King’s video was styled after the former A&E reality television show “Manhunters” and featured the show’s star, marshals commander Lenny DePaul. It even carried the show’s logo. O’Donnell said the cameras risked changing the nature of the event.
“You’re asking for a staged event if you signal that you’re coming there and you’re coming to sort of make it into a photo-op,” O’Donnell said. “Honestly, I think it falls on the member of Congress to not do that. Obviously, the agency that is funded by these people who have oversight over the agency, they’re in an awkward position to say no. So you hope that the members would use discretion.”
After the video drew headlines in March, King said he was “in full compliance with what the Marshals set out as the proper procedures.” A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service later clarified that the investigation focused on their own internal processes rather than King’s actions.
Still, the congressman made some changes in light of the probe. First he edited out certain portions of the video and replaced it online. Then he later removed it from his YouTube account entirely.
“What you have is you have some media group which is raising some objections and that’s the extent of it,” King told a radio station at the time. “Nobody in the marshals at all has raised any objections with me then or since.”
As the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press points out, ride-alongs can be risky for media outlets, given that there’s an open legal question as to whether they can be held responsible for violating the constitutional rights of individuals whose homes were being searched.
The Supreme Court ruled, however, that law enforcement officers who invite media representatives to accompany them in a private home or on private property while they execute a search or arrest warrant can be held in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
The YouTube video, as originally posted by King’s office, is embedded below.