Boise man taken to jail after filming police files tort claim over ‘false arrest’

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It was just before 3 a.m. on a warm Saturday morning in June when a parking attendant told Ty Werenka to leave a garage in downtown Boise. Werenka, 29, had just spent the last several minutes filming a police investigation of a minor traffic incident in the garage.

As he walked toward one of the garage exits, the officers began to follow him.

“Why are you interfering with this investigation?” Cpl. Denny Carter asked. Werenka began recording again. He lifted his phone to face level and asked Carter what he’s interfering with.

“Get that out of my face,” Carter said, slapping the phone to the ground. He grabbed Werenka by the arm and pushed him forward several feet, holding Werenka face-first against a cinder block wall as he handcuffed him.

Werenka cried out, “I’m not resisting, I’m not resisting.” Carter told Werenka he’s under arrest for resisting and obstructing.

Charges against Werenka were dropped last fall. But the arrest prompted him to file a tort claim against the city, alleging he was falsely arrested. Footage of the arrest, captured in three perspectives by Werenka and officers’ body cameras, was obtained by the Idaho Statesman through Werenka and a public records request.

In an interview, Werenka told the Statesman he wants to bring the case to light to ensure Boise residents — and local law enforcement — know they have a right to film police. He said he hopes drawing attention to the issue will prevent future arrests in similar situations.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Werenka said. “I want to dissuade them from doing this again.”

Police officer says he feared for his safety

Werenka said he suffered physical and mental damages from the arrest. Carter in a police report said he feared for his safety when he arrested Werenka.

The city and its agencies have 90 days to respond to the Dec. 7 tort claim. Nearly two months after the claim was filed, Werenka and his attorney, Johnathan Baldauf, said city officials still haven’t responded.

City spokesperson Maria Weeg told the Statesman in an email that the city “doesn’t comment on pending tort claims.”

Werenka, whose father is Black and mother is white, told the Statesman he frequently films police interactions in public. Werenka said since 2020, when George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officers set off massive protests and renewed calls for police accountability, he has become more adamant about filming police encounters.

“Just being a brown person in Idaho and having countless negative experiences with police, I’ve been in situations where I wish others had done the same for me,” Werenka told the Statesman.

He said police “never like me filming but they don’t get physical with me.” In his dozens of interactions with police, Werenka added, “this has never happened before.”

He told the Statesman that some Boise police officers seem to recognize him from his filming and participation in local activism but noted he had never interacted with Westendorf or Carter prior to his arrest. Neither officer mentioned recognizing Werenka in their reports.

Video clips from Werenka’s phone, reviewed by the Statesman, show he filmed the area where Carter and Westendorf had parked their patrol car before he was told by the parking attendant to leave. Another video clip from Werenka’s phone begins when Carter approached Werenka.

In his police report, Carter wrote that he saw Werenka arguing with the parking lot attendant and “failing to leave” when he approached Werenka.

Carter wrote that he approached Werenka and explained to him that he was interfering with the officers’ ability to complete the traffic accident investigation when Werenka began filming. Carter wrote that he told Werenka he “was interfering with my ability to resolve the current investigation/situation” when Werenka raised his phone roughly 6 inches from Carter’s face.

“This blocked my vision and based on Werenka’s unusual behavior I feared for my safety,” Carter wrote. “I slapped the phone/camera from in front of my face and grabbed Werenka’s right wrist with my right hand. Werenka then tensed his arm/muscles in an attempt to resist.”

Werenka told the Statesman he wasn’t resisting and said he was adamant about pointing that out during his arrest.

“It was definitely a safety (or) preservation tactic,” he said. “I was hoping at the very least that it would be recorded verbally that I’m not resisting.”

Werenka says free speech restricted

Carter’s body camera footage shows he handcuffed Werenka and put him in the back seat of the patrol car around 3:04 a.m. Werenka was booked into Ada County Jail at 3:38 a.m., according to jail records. Werenka told the Statesman he was released roughly an hour later after paying $300 for a cash bond, though jail records don’t indicate his release time.

In the tort claim, Baldauf said the department kept Werenka’s phone as evidence until August, when Baldauf intervened. A charge of resisting and obstruction, which carries a fine of up to $1,000 and jail time up to one year, was pending against Werenka for months.

Baldauf said after significant discussions with the prosecutor, he filed a motion on Oct. 25 to dismiss the charge. The charge was dropped five days before a trial was slated to begin on Oct. 31.

“It took some convincing and an ardent motion, but finally the prosecutor saw the writing on the wall and dropped the charges,” Baldauf told the Statesman.

Idaho law requires that government entities be given notice of potential allegations of wrongdoing involving them or their employees through a tort claim. The government can settle the claim by paying for damages or deny it. If the tort claim is denied, the complainant can sue.

Werenka is seeking $500,000 in damages.

In his notice, Werenka said he “suffered economic damages, damages to his reputation, psychic damages that required the continued use of a counselor, injury to his wrist and back that required treatment at an urgent care clinic.” He also said the arrest restricted his rights to free speech and recording police activity.

Werenka told the Statesman the arrest has had a lasting impact.

“I’m not normally skittish,” Werenka said. “It has been pretty traumatizing to me in terms of continuing to film the police. It’s like, are these rights for me or for someone else?”

Even though the charges were dropped, Werenka and his attorney said they want to show local police and Boise residents that arrests like this aren’t acceptable.

“We’re getting the word out to the public,” Baldauf said. “How many times have things like what happened to Ty happened to people who don’t have the money or power to do anything about it?”