‘Cop watcher’ beats rap, runs for City Council


By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

LITTLE CANADA, Minn. — Andrew Henderson may be a political novice, but name recognition will be the least of his challenges.

Henderson, 30, was charged with two misdemeanors connected to videotaping deputies and an ambulance crew dealing with a man outside his apartment building.

The welder turned cop-watcher gripped this small Twin Cities suburb for 15 months. Now, Henderson is running for a seat on the City Council.

“I have a donation page for my campaign, which people have been donating to, which is awesome,” said Henderson, who has announced his intention to run but cannot officially pay the $2 filing fee until September. “People have been asking me to campaign, to help me door-knock, and I’m sure I’ll take them up on their offer this coming fall. Other people have been networking, just on how to keep government accountable.”

Henderson’s political roots go back to a late night in October 2012, when a Ramsey County deputy confiscated his camera. Authorities charged him with disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process, returning his camera — video deleted —weeks later.

In February, a jury acquitted Henderson of both misdemeanor charges. The ex-defendant-turned-candidate claims Little Canada wasted about $8,000 in taxpayer money by prosecuting him, but town officials say the city’s monthly legal retainer covered most of that.

“We contract with the (Ramsey County) Sheriff’s Department for police services, and our city attorney makes the prosecution decisions,” said Joel Hanson, city administrator for Little Canada. “The city’s not overly involved in that, and that obviously had its day in court, and he was acquitted of those charges. From our standpoint, that’s how things went, but he’s more than welcome to run for City Council.”

Cell-phone audio of the incident remains posted on Henderson’s YouTube page with dozens of videos of police actions, media interviews and even testimony at a legislative hearing.

“I’m taking your evidence,” said an officer identified as Deputy Jacqueline Muellner.

“You’re taking my camera,” said Henderson. “I’m doing a lawful thing right now. Filming is legal.”

“OK, but if I end up on YouTube, I’m going to be upset,” the deputy said.

The incident gained celebrity among a growing network of cop watchers nationwide. The Miami-based Photography Is Not A Crime blog interviewed Henderson and posted a link for readers interested in donating to his campaign. Campaign donations on his Go Fund Me online site total about $230 toward a goal of $500. Encouraging comments complement the donations.

“I wish you all the luck in the world and give you much credit for taking this action instead of just complaining about the problem,” wrote Walter Strong, who contributed $100.

Henderson pledges to report all campaign spending on his Facebook page. His online checklist of sometime seemingly conflicting priorities includes open and transparent government, limiting regulation in peoples’ lives, legislating rent control and supporting small businesses.

A VOTE FOR VIDEOTAPING: The 30-year-old welder/cop watcher now streams his camera to the cloud and encourages videotaping of his campaign. Andrew Henderson campaign poster.

The candidate has begun combing through the books for outdated ordinances, already persuading the council to repeal an ordinance against wearing clothes of the opposite sex, among other laws.

“The way our fireworks ordinance is written, he’s concerned somebody shooting legal fireworks could be charged, and I have the city attorney reviewing that,” said Hanson. “Whether he ran for council or not, if somebody comes to the city and points something out that appears to be valid, we’ll take a look at it.”

Henderson continues with his cop camerawork, upgrading his gear to make sure he’ll never again lose footage.

“I currently use a streaming camera, so everything I record now is gone to the cloud,” said Henderson. “I can access it from anywhere, even if my camera is taken, destroyed or the video deleted.”

Ten-year incumbent Mayor Bill Blesener will only hint at which council candidates he plans to support.

“I will pick sides to the point of candidates that I feel are a plus to the city, they not coming in there with their own agendas and things like that,” said Blesener. “Our council and our staff has been just excellent. We’ve had a very cohesive group of people.”

So will candidate Henderson encourage others to videotape him?

“Of course. I believe in transparency in government. And, if I’m elected, I sure hope that somebody holds me accountable for every action and word that I say.”

Contact Tom Steward at tsteward@watchdog.org