SLO officers accused of targeting a witness to a use of force incident

July 23, 2022

Officer Blake Etherton


San Luis Obispo Police Chief Rick Scott says it might just be coincidence that officers in two police cars followed a videographer who is known as the “SLO County Observer” for seven minutes a few days ago. The officers followed him for a distance of about two miles before stopping and citing him for failing to use his turn signal to travel from Pismo Street to Higuera Street.

The videographer accused the officers of targeting him in retaliation for a video he shot.

“SLO County Observer” live streamed and uploaded a video to YouTube showing a police officer hitting a man in the temple during a July 17 arrest. Shortly afterwards, the unnamed officer was placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of an investigation.

Four days later, officers in at least two police cars appeared to follow SLO County Observer while he drove northbound on Higuera Street, a rearview video of the incident shows. As one police car turns away, another car pulls behind the videographer.

Officer Blake Etherton follows the videographer onto Marsh Street, before the officer turns right onto Pacific Street without activating his turn signal.

The videographer continues northbound on Marsh Street and makes a right turn onto Nipomo, driving for a short time without an officer on his tail before he turns right onto Pismo Street.

Etherton then loops around and again begins following the videographer, this time on Pismo Street near the intersection with High and Higuera streets.

The videographer transitions onto Higuera Street in a lane that also allows a left turn onto High Street. The meeting point for Higuera and Pismo streets meet in a roughly “y” shape with Pismo feeding directly to Higuera Street going south.

Lane markers at the intersection show a right arrow to go north on Higuera Street, a left arrow to go east on High Street and a straight arrow to transition onto southbound Higuera Street.

After officers followed the videographer for about seven minutes, Etherton pulls him over claiming he failed to activate his turn signal a full 150 feet before heading onto Higuera Street. The video appears to show the videographer did not turn left.

In addition, Etherton incorrectly quotes California Vehicle Code 22108, which  requires all drivers signal at least 100 feet, not 150 feet, prior to making a turn or changing lanes.

The videographer explains on camera that he drove straight onto Higuera Street. But Etherton does not agree. He writes the videographer a ticket.

Chief Scott says the facts might support that the officer and the videographer were headed in the same direction, towards a police call in progress.

It is not clear which call the officers in the two police cars would have been responding to that would require them to drive in a loop. The officers followed the videographer northbound on Higuera Street, onto Marsh Street, then onto Pismo Street before heading south on Higuera Street. The cars traveled roughly two miles over a period of seven minutes going from north on Higuera Street to south on Higuera Street.

“There is a very strong possibility the person was not being ‘followed’ or ‘stalked’ at all, but chose to take the same route as the police officers responding to a routine police call for service, which was broadcast over the police channel and possibly also received by any person utilizing a consumer grade scanner,” Scott said. “I am waiting on the full details to be provided to my office so these circumstances and the issuance of the citation can both be review [sic] for further administrative action.”

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Well even if you didn’t know anything about the previous police incident involving the photographer you would more than likely feel the police were tailing this guy. From looking at the arrows in road I would say it’s a combination turn or straight lane and he went straight so no turn signal was required. It’s sad that a citizen needs to take his time to dispute a in my view obvious unnecessary ticket. I think when obvious unfounded infractions are ticketed the Police should have to re-emburse the person for their time and wages lost

One of my biggests beefs is the improper use or failure to use turn signals. Many people only use them when in a dedicated turn lane, duh, but fail to use them when actually required. If the subject in the article had signaled left, indicating that he was turning on to High Street a driver on northbound Higuera would not make a legal red light right turn on to High Street which they could do if the other driver was headed in the direction of the straight arrow and not signalling to turn left on to High Street. Who’s running this department, Rick Scott or Josh Walsh?

I agree about the lack of use of turn signals but in this case, the driver was not turning left but going straight and maybe that is what you are saying.

He didn’t signal left because he was going straight that’s the issue of wrongfull ticket

Let’s assume for a moment that what the chief says is correct, and that it was a merely a colossal coincidence that two police cars just happened to be on the same looping route as the witness. This is still clearly a retaliatory stop and ticket based upon the pretext of a questionable (at best) turn signal infraction.

At the intersection where this “infraction” occurred, and the lane the witness was in, there are only two possible moves (turn left onto High Street or go straight onto South Higuera Street, which is what the witness did). If I were following the witness, I would be confused if he signaled a left turn onto High Street, and then went straight onto South Higuera Street. If the witness had done that, which is what Etherton apparently thought he should have done, he would then have been pulled over for signaling a left turn, and then failing to make said left turn. Etherton did, in fact, have his turn signal on while waiting for the light at South Higuera Street, and should have turned left onto High Street.

Witness was in a no-win situation. Etherton’s stupid grin demonstrates that he knew the witness could not avoid some sort of retaliation.

Now, since the presence of two police cars on the same loop is pretty clearly not a coincidence, the only conclusion is that this event is retaliation and harassment.

Compounding that is the fact that the “officer” didn’t know the law. I knew the 150’ was wrong as soon as he said it in the video, and it is his job to know.

Initially I thought Etherton might be the perp in the original beating incident, but then I realized that “officer” was on paid vacation… I mean “administrative leave”.

It will be interesting to find out if the traffic court judge just rubber stamps this injustice or commits an unusual act of justice by dismissing this case and admonishing the “officer”. Maybe the judge can impose a fine on the “officer” for his failure to turn left after signaling that intention.

I smell something stinky here or better yet, I see a cover up off police harassment. Police Chief Scott should do a thorough investigation but he should not start setting up the “alibi” of responding to a call. In the last five years, how many citations have the SLOPD issued for not activating a turn signal????

The supreme court gave police the ok to lie to suspects during questioning and interrogations but like children they aren’t able to return to honesty once the lying was excepted.

“SLO county observer” makes a point of being around police; only makes sense he’s going to draw more attention to himself. Since it’s not exactly a friendly relationship; why shouldn’t they site him for any and every little thing they can? Everyone is subject to the rules, “journalist” included.

Why should it not be a friendly relationship if police do their job by the rules then why would they be against someone videoing it? Everyone should get equal treatment of rules also.

Friendly to someone actively trying to get you in trouble at your job? A nosey co worker is bad enough, imagine a random person showing up all the time filming everything you do. Irritating to say the least.

Why would the Cop get in trouble, if they should be doing everything by the book?

Guess what? Whenever you venture out into the public, you are being filmed by innumerable cameras. Are all those people and businesses irritating also—to say the least?

I suppose I won’t even mention, that the Cops are also recording you…

Does anyone at any job ever, do everything by the book? No; we’re all granted a certain amount of leeway, some roles more than others. There is supposed to be a level of mutual understanding.

I certainly hope the difference between what “County Observer” is doing and a general surveillance camera is obvious…

Harrassment and entrapment.

THIS IS WRONG if the facts presented are accurate. The Police Chief should just own it, apologize and acknowledge that his officers went low, and tried to play “harass the woke guy with the phone cam”. A turn signal violation? Seriously? How stupid does he think we are? This is just embarasing. I will always stand with law enforcement as long as they are acting professionally. This is not that moment.

Cops lie all the time. This is standard practice. If they want to harass someone, they can. And Judges and DA’s will back them up. This has been going on in this county forever.

I remember the Lisa Soloman era when the Paso Robles PD covered up for an Ol’ Boy Clique member who accelerated his vehicle and rear-ended his victim’s vehicle on purpose.

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