Crime

First Amendment ‘auditor’ injured during argument with security guard at LA synagogue

Who are those people taking videos inside police stations and government buildings?

Armed with cameras and sometimes handguns, “First Amendment auditors” are roaming government buildings and police stations across the country. Some worry their confrontations could turn violent.
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Armed with cameras and sometimes handguns, “First Amendment auditors” are roaming government buildings and police stations across the country. Some worry their confrontations could turn violent.

A self-described First Amendment auditor was injured Thursday during a confrontation with a security guard outside a synagogue and Jewish high school in Los Angeles while live-streaming a video of the bizarre incident.

The “auditor” suffered minor injuries when the guard appeared to fire his weapon toward the ground. It was unclear whether the victim was struck by a bullet or shrapnel. The incident occurred while the victim, a YouTube personality who goes by the name “Furry Potato,” was filming outside the Etz Jacob Congregation/Ohel Chana High School in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. Police said the victim’s injuries were not life-threatening and no one inside the building was harmed.

The victim initially refused to identify herself, then told police that she was a transgender female named Good Citizen. Later, she told police she was Zhoie Perez, 45, from Orange County.

Police said Thursday night that Perez had committed no crime. Detectives arrested the guard, identified as Edduin Zelayagrunfeld, 44, on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

Perez is among a growing group of activists known as First Amendment auditors. Armed with cellphones, cameras and sometimes handguns, they roam the country taking videos inside and outside police departments, government buildings and other public places. They say they are simply asserting their constitutional rights, checking up on their public servants to see how they interact with those they are supposed to be serving.

The “auditors” usually refuse to identify themselves and zoom in on officers and employees, calling them by name and often making them visibly uncomfortable — sometimes even frightened. And occasionally, especially if the encounters become confrontational, they stream their videos live, prompting their viewers to call the police departments and other offices to protest what they say is wrongful treatment.

The Star featured First Amendment auditors in a story last month. Critics of the auditors, including some domestic terrorism experts, said their tactics were intimidating and an attempt to incite authorities. A Missouri police chief told The Star that it was just a matter of time before one of the encounters turned violent.

So Bob Paudert wasn’t surprised Thursday night when he learned about the shooting.

“This is exactly what I’ve been worried about,” said Paudert, police chief of Seymour, Mo., and former police chief of West Memphis, Ark., where his son and another officer were gunned down by anti-government sovereign citizens during a traffic stop in 2010. “Going to a synagogue during a time when such places have been under attack, it’s crazy. I knew it was going to come to this. And there’s going to be more of it, too.”

Perez conducts First Amendment audits and posts them on her YouTube site called Furry Potato. As of Thursday night, the site had more than 17,000 subscribers. Her recent audits include those of Los Angeles-area police departments, the Orange County fusion center and a federal detention center. She told reporters Thursday, however, that she wasn’t conducting an audit of the synagogue but just taking video outside.

Perez live-streamed the shooting incident as it unfolded. The 38-minute video begins with a scene of a uniformed security guard standing behind a gate outside the synagogue.

“The guard just pulled a gun out on me, everybody,” Perez can be heard saying on the video. “He said if I move, he’s gonna shoot me dead.”

The agitated guard swayed back and forth and held a handgun with both hands, the weapon pointed downward. On his uniform was an American flag patch and the word “security.”

He repeatedly asked Perez why she was videotaping, then said, “Get out of the way.” Soon, a shot rang out. The gun still appeared to be pointing down.

Perez lost it. “The f----- shot me!” she shouted. “F----- shot me in the leg.”

“That was a warning shot,” the guard responded, pointing at Perez with his left forefinger. “You keep doing that, I will shoot you for real. You were trying to break inside.”

Dozens watched the profanity-laced incident unfold live on YouTube as Perez screamed in pain. When police arrived, they handcuffed Perez and waited for an ambulance. She told them that “I was sitting there filming from the sidewalk and that a------ shot me.”

Perez initially refused to give police her name and shouted at those watching online to “get that livestream up to everybody…I need it mirrored a thousand times right now.”

A steady flow of followers posted comments as the video streamed, many of them blasting police and the security guard.

Some observers said it looked like the security guard had fired at the sidewalk and the bullet ricocheted and struck Perez.

Perez talked to reporters after being treated for the injury.

“The doctor said it was a graze,” she said of the wound in her right leg.

She said she had no connection to the synagogue and was simply filming the building.

The principal of the Hebrew school told CBS Los Angeles that the incident frightened her and the students.

“An individual was filming our girls at the school. In the building. The perimeter of the building including all the windows and exits. This caused a great deal of anxiety to both our staff and our students,” Yehudis Farkash said. “During the incident we did try to keep the girls calm and the building was placed on lockdown.”

By early Friday, the video had been posted on dozens of supporters’ websites and drew thousands of views.

A post from a First Amendment auditor called NewsNowFRESNO said, “Security guard was within the fence brandishing his weapon. Furry was on sidewalk filming. Appeared to be accidental discharge into ground with shrapnel hitting Furry.”

Patrick Roth, an Oklahoma First Amendment auditor who operates a site called News Now Patrick and has conducted “audits” in numerous government buildings in Kansas and Missouri, defended Perez on his channel Thursday night.

“Furry’s not doing anything wrong,” he said of Perez. “You can’t just go around shooting people, or shooting at people, ricochet bullets, whatever it may be.”

But Paudert said the incident should serve as a teaching tool for law enforcement and the public about First Amendment auditors.

“I hope,” he said, “that this brings more light to what’s going on.”

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Judy L. Thomas joined The Star in 1995 and is a member of the investigative team, focusing on watchdog journalism. Over three decades, the Kansas native has covered domestic terrorism, extremist groups and clergy sex abuse. Her stories on Kansas secrecy and religion have been nationally recognized.
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