From the patrol car footage of Everett police officer Ryan Greely, Molly Wright sits in the back of a police car after being arrested for obstructing a law enforcement officer on Aug. 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Screenshot from a video provided by Molly Wright)

From the patrol car footage of Everett police officer Ryan Greely, Molly Wright sits in the back of a police car after being arrested for obstructing a law enforcement officer on Aug. 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Screenshot from a video provided by Molly Wright)

‘My rights were violated’: Everett officer arrests woman filming him

Ryan Greely arrested Molly Wright in August on charges of obstructing, though state law generally allows filming police in public.

EVERETT — On a warm August morning, Molly Wright heard shouting outside her apartment at the Bluffs at Evergreen.

She grabbed her phone and a camera stabilizer around 11 a.m. Aug. 10., then approached an Everett officer’s patrol car parked along a private street at 2 West Casino Road.

Officer Ryan Greely had just arrested a man suspected of trespassing at the Bluffs multiple times. Greely took a seat in the patrol car, in front of his computer. Moments later, he looked up to see Wright walking toward his car slowly, in a hoodie and sandals, panning the camera across the hood. Greely opened the door.

“Can you please step back? Or you’ll be arrested for obstruction,” he warns her, in a 39-minute video of his body camera footage Wright posted to YouTube this month.

“Good luck, good luck,” Wright responds. “Obstruction requires a physical act.”

In the footage, she backs up to a curb, roughly 15 feet from the officer.

“You’re fine, I ain’t going to hurt you,” says Wright, 45. “I’m not even armed.”

The officer walks across the street and handcuffs her for investigation of obstructing law enforcement, a misdemeanor.

The arrest raises questions about whether Greely violated Wright’s First Amendment right to film police in public, a right that has been affirmed by the state Supreme Court, in cases including Lewis v. State, Dept. of Licensing (2006) and State v. E.J.J. (2015).

A person has the right to record police on duty as long as they keep a “reasonable distance,” according to a “Know Your Rights” guide published by the ACLU of Washington.

“Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, nor may they delete data under any circumstances,” the ACLU guide reads.

Officers “may order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations,” according to the guidelines.

Everett police’s policy manual states: “Members of the public, including media representatives, have an unambiguous First Amendment right to record officers in public places, as long as their actions do not interfere with the officer’s duties or the safety of officers or others. Officers should assume that they are being recorded at all times when on duty in a public space.”

Around the country, police departments have paid out numerous six-figure settlements for unlawful arrests of people trying to film them in public, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. For example, last year, the Spokane Police Department paid out $57,000 to a witness who was arrested for trespassing in a private parking lot, when officers took issue with her filming them doing interviews in public.

The city of Everett stood by the decision to arrest Wright in a statement to The Daily Herald this month. However, an Everett judge dismissed the criminal case without prejudice on Nov. 16, following a motion from a city prosecutor.

In an interview, Wright said she intends to sue for what she claims was an unlawful arrest.

“My rights were violated, we are supposed to be able to film our police when they’re in action,” Wright said on the balcony outside her apartment.

Wright obtained Greely’s body cam footage through a public records request. She posted videos of the incident from two angles: the footage from her phone, as well as Greely’s point of view.

“We do not believe he (Greely) acted outside of policy or law in this incident,” Everett officer Ora Hamel said Friday. “As an agency, we are commonly filmed by members of the public and understand it is their right to do so. We only ask that the filming occurs at a distance where it is not interfering with our duties or putting our officers in a place where they need to be concerned about their safety.”

‘Or I’ll put you on the ground’

Security called Greely around 10:55 a.m. for reports of a man who had trespassed multiple times at the Bluffs, behind the Fred Meyer at Evergreen Way and Casino Road. He turns on his camera.

As a security guard watches, the suspect briefly tries to explain: He’s picking up a pair of shoes, and he’s leaving. Greely arrests him and puts him into the back of the patrol car, as the detainee protests with his voice raised. Wright shows up with her camera about eight minutes later. The officer claimed his computer screen was in view of Wright’s lens.

“I cannot continue my investigation with you coming up to my car,” Greely says. He got back in the vehicle.

Wright, now standing on the curb, continues filming. Greely tells her to step away, pointing to another curb and saying, “You can stand over there on the curb. … I don’t have a cover (officer). You can stand over there.”

Wright tells him she was not armed.

“Yes, you are, you got a knife,” Greely says as he walked up to her. Wright later acknowledged she had a small knife and pepper spray on her, for self-defense.

On video, Wright remains calm for most of the encounter, standing still when the officer approaches her. Greely throws out Wright’s cigarette and grabs her camera stabilizer. He orders her to drop it.

“Put it on the ground, or I’ll put you on the ground,” Greely says, restraining her.

The officer pats down her body, taking her phone, wallet and keys out of her pockets. He asks her if she had anything in her bra. She tells him no.

“Obstruction is a physical act,” she says a moment later.

“You were physically obstructing me,” he replies.

“Really? So I came between you and your subject? I came between you and your subject? Did I? Yes or no?”

“You became (between) me and my job. … I can’t do my job with you hovering around,” he says. “I can’t access my computer, with you — I could not do my job with you coming around, violating access.”

Deputy Police Chief Jeraud Irving happened to be in the area and arrived on scene as Wright was detained.

“Jeraud, he was on scene and just allowed it,” Wright said. “So he saw that I was recording. So he knew exactly what I was doing. There was no ambiguity of that situation.”

Hamel clarified Irving was acting as a cover officer for Greely.

“If Deputy Chief Irving observes an officer acting outside of the policy or law, he would intervene and correct their actions,” Hamel wrote.

After Greely put Wright in his patrol car, a security guard told the officer that Wright had filmed him a few months ago, too, and “put me all over YouTube.”

“I’m sure I’ll be on YouTube now,” Greely replied.

Wright sat in the back seat as Greely drove to the Snohomish County Jail in downtown Everett. On her hoodie was a drawing of a sleeveless shirt, with the caption “Tank Top.” Next to it was a cop’s uniform, labeled, “Wife Beater.”

Obstruction of a law enforcement officer is a gross misdemeanor. According to state law, it’s illegal if a person “willfully hinders, delays, or obstructs any law enforcement officer in the discharge of his or her official powers or duties.”

Wright has posted other encounters with police — in incidents she believes show misconduct — on the YouTube channel, “A Pig’s Daughter.” Her father was a police officer, she said. She said she supports “good officers, and good people, like people with good intentions and whatnot, and put their best foot forward.”

“What I don’t support,” she said, “is officers who think that their badge gives them power and authority over the public, which they derive their power from us.”

From the bodycam footage of Everett police officer Ryan Greely and footage from Molly Wright, Wright films officer Greely before he arrests her for obstructing a law enforcement officer on Aug. 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Screenshot from a video provided by Molly Wright)

From the bodycam footage of Everett police officer Ryan Greely and footage from Molly Wright, Wright films officer Greely before he arrests her for obstructing a law enforcement officer on Aug. 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Screenshot from a video provided by Molly Wright)

‘They committed a crime’

Wright spent about eight hours behind bars.

After Everett Municipal Court Judge Amy Kaestner dismissed the misdemeanor charges this month, Wright posted her court hearings on YouTube, too.

At an Aug. 23 hearing, Kaestner reviewed a six-paragraph narrative from Greely.

“Wright was armed with a knife and pepper spray, within 10 to 15 feet from me, refusing my repeated lawful commands to stay at a safe distance,” Greely wrote. “Trying to record my mobile computer with sensitive information on it.”

Kaestner found probable cause for the obstructing charge.

The city also asked for an “exclusion order” to ban Wright from the Bluffs property, where she has lived for four years.

“Why is the city asking for an exclusion order in this case?” Kaestner asked the city’s deputy prosecutor.

“Well, from our knowledge, and for the probable cause statement,” the deputy prosecutor replied. “She has been trespassed from that location multiple times in the last couple days.”

“That’s — not her, that’s the individual that was being arrested,” Kaestner corrected her. “She was trying to film the incident, apparently, and was not following commands to stay out of the way, is the allegation. So I’m not entering the exclusion order, given those facts. Not sure why the city is asking for that, based on her actions.”

As of Friday, the body camera video had about 1,400 views on YouTube.

Last week, Everett police agreed to answer questions about the arrest, but advised The Herald to “consider” not publishing a story due to the potential “inflammatory effect.” City spokesperson Simone Tarver later clarified this was not a request to not publish a story.

“Your publication can and will publish whatever it decides to,” Tarver wrote.

In the meantime, comments flooded the Everett Police Department’s page on Facebook, expressing outrage over the arrest and calling for Greely to be fired.

“When did recording become illegal?” one comment read.

“Another nazi cop arresting person without cause,” another read.

Greely was sworn into the department in June 2015. Hamel said he did not face discipline for the arrest.

“The arrest in this case was lawful,” Hamel said. “It was based on probable cause for obstructing an officer.”

Meanwhile, court records show the man originally arrested Aug. 10 spent five days in jail for loitering, criminal trespassing and possession of a controlled substance. Since then, he has been arrested four more times, spending one to seven days behind bars each time.

Wright had not filed a civil claim, as of this week.

“If I have to I have to be accountable for my actions as a citizen, then the people who work for me definitely should,” Wright said. “… They committed a crime — and it’s a crime. It’s a huge crime.”

Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

A heavily damaged Washington State Patrol vehicle is hauled away after a crash killed a trooper on southbound I-5 early Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
State trooper killed, 1 arrested in crash on I-5 near Marysville

The trooper died around 3 a.m. near 136th Street NE. Southbound lanes were blocked for about nine hours.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night on December 11, 2017. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Following lawsuit, Providence commits to improved care for Deaf patients

Three patients from Snohomish County sued Providence in 2022 for alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations.

Cars drive through snow along I-5 in Snohomish County, Washington on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
In March, 7 p.m. sunsets are back for Western Washington

Washingtonians will finally start seeing more sun starting March 10. But a little more winter could be on the way first.

One of the parking lots at Stevens Pass Thursday afternoon on December 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Stevens Pass to charge $20 for parking reservations on busy days

Two-thirds of spaces will remain free for early arrivers on weekends. Cars with four or more occupants can also park free.

Lynnwood
Days after shootout with Lynnwood police, suspect checks into hospital

Police learned the 18-year-old was in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. His alleged role in the shooting remained unclear.

Everett
Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.