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Controversial Colorado Cop Watcher Who Prompted Groundbreaking Legal Precedent Indicted Federally

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A controversial copwatcher—whose unorthodox tactics have garnered him a loyal following on YouTube, but have also embroiled him in legal troubles that eventually landed him in jail—has been indicted on new federal charges for making interstate threats.

Eric Brandt, a prolific filer of lawsuits and First Amendment rights advocate, as well as a former Navy submarine technician, has been charged by a federal grand jury in Louisiana with violating a federal law that prohibits interstate threats. A copy of the indictment, obtained by TRNN, lists the date of the offense as December 2019 but does not provide any additional details. 

The charges were filed in Louisiana Eastern District federal court in August of 2023.

Brandt is currently serving out the remainder of his 12-year sentence for threatening three Denver judges. He was recently moved to Delta Correctional Center, a minimum security facility in Colorado.  

Abade Irizarry, a fellow cop watcher known as Liberty Freak, said Brandt was moved to Delta due to his good behavior.

“Delta Correctional Facility is just before halfway house,” Irizarry told TRNN. “He said he has been treated with dignity and respect, they respect him there.”

Irizarry added that Brandt was on the verge of being released—a fact, he said, that is raising suspicions among Brandt’s supporters that the indictment was timed to keep him in jail. 

Irizarry added that Brandt was on the verge of being released—a fact, he said, that is raising suspicions among Brandt’s supporters that the indictment was timed to keep him in jail. 

“He was two weeks away from a halfway house,” Irizarry said.

While authorities were not forthcoming with details about the incident that precipitated the charges, Irizarry said Brandt posted a video in December of 2019 in which he recounted calling St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, police and telling a person who answered the phone to shoot an officer.    

Brandt’s calls to St. Charles Parish police were in response to a livestream posted by fellow copwatcher James Freeman. 

Freeman was camping at a federal park when a ranger ordered him to move. The popular copwatcher said he would comply while filming the encounter. Police were called and Freeman was arrested. 

Authorities would not confirm if the video was related to the indictment.

Brandt is a  Navy veteran who became a YouTube personality by chronicling his often freewheeling and confrontational brand of activism. 

Brandt told TRNN he began challenging police after he voluntarily left his home to show solidarity with unhoused people who were being harassed by police. The first videos Brandt posted on YouTube, which prompted his ascent as a critical voice in the copwatching movement, depicted him confronting Denver cops for intentionally honking their horns to wake up people sleeping on the street. 

Denver has a chronically unhoused population, the result of skyrocketing rents and an uneven approach to building more affordable housing. A snapshot of the metro Denver region’s unhoused population in 2023 found roughly 9,000 people were living on the streets any given night

Brandt said the mistreatment of the unhoused by police prompted him to adopt more confrontational tactics. That included the use of what he called the “eight magic letters” or “fuck cops”), which he often displayed on colorful signs he touted on street corners or in front of city hall.

The first videos Brandt posted on YouTube, which prompted his ascent as a critical voice in the copwatching movement, depicted him confronting Denver cops for intentionally honking their horns to wake up people sleeping on the street.

However, his use of outlandish and disruptive antics escalated, culminating in a series of death threats aimed at several Denver judges, which led to charges resulting in a 12-year sentence in April 2021. 

Brandt has been characterized by the mainstream media as an abrasive oddity whose rant-filled videos warranted criminal charges and jail time. But his supporters say his activism is more nuanced than these caricaturistic portrayals suggest, and for all the controversy his tactics have sparked, his efforts have led to substantive reforms.  

For instance, Brandt has been successful in forcing change within law enforcement. 

In 2018, he sued the Englewood police department after they arrested him for a tattoo that displayed a middle finger on his forearm, emblazoned with his signature “Fuck Cops” motto. 

Brandt’s pro se suit led to a $30,000 settlement for Brandt and First Amendment training for the Englewood police department and the early institution of body-worn cameras. 

“I call this my $30,000 tattoo,” Brandt told Police Accountability Report in an interview in 2021. 

Last November, Denver City Council agreed to pay Brandt $65,000 to settle a lawsuit over his 2018 arrest for shouting “No Justice? No Peace! Fuck the Denver police!” on the 16th Street Mall. 

He was also part of a groundbreaking lawsuit that established the right to film police in the federal 10th Circuit. Brandt and Irizarry filed the suit, which began with a straightforward cop watch of a DUI stop in Lakewood, Colorado, in 2020. 

The duo’s encounter was peaceful until another officer, who was not involved in the stop, arrived on the scene: Officer Yehia. Yehia purposely moved in front of their cameras, flashed a light into their faces, and then drove his car in Brandt’s direction while repeatedly using his car horn. 

Irizarry and Brandt filed a suit pro se, arguing that the officer’s actions interfered with their right to record. 

After a federal district court ruled the officer could not be held accountable due to qualified immunity, several advocacy groups joined the suit with the hope that it would be a test case to establish the right to film police. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the US Department of Justice were among the organizations that filed amicus briefs on their behalf. Eventually, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the officer should have known the right to record was established and remanded the case back to the district court for a trial.  

[Brandt] was also part of a groundbreaking lawsuit that established the right to film police in the federal 10th Circuit.

The plaintiffs recently settled for $35,000.

The current federal charges against Brandt require him to appear before a federal magistrate by April 15, 2024. Brandt has since been placed on lockdown and is awaiting transport to Louisiana. According to the writ of habeas corpus reviewed by TRNN, Brandt will remain in federal custody until the case is resolved. 

Despite the setback for Brandt, Irizarry told TRNN he is confident the colorful activist and fellow copwatcher will prevail.

“He is tough,” Irizarry said, “he never negs out. He’s the one who boosts our spirits, and he’s in prison.”  

This story is part of TRNN’s ongoing coverage of the phenomenon known as cop watching—YouTube activists and citizen journalists who film police and push for law enforcement reform across the country. 

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