U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent journalist arrested while filming in New Mexico; sues police officer

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 11, 2018
Artesia, New Mexico
Case number
Case Status
Type of case

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Artesia Police Department
Detention Date
Unnecessary use of force?

A still from the livestream by independent journalist Albert Bustillos showing his arrest. He was charged with concealing his identity while filming on public land outside of the Navajo Refinery in Artesia, New Mexico, on Sept. 11, 2018.

September 11, 2018

Independent journalist Albert Bustillos was arrested in Artesia, New Mexico, on Sept. 11, 2018, while attempting to gather footage to report on an oil refinery. Although the subsequent conviction was later dismissed, Bustillos ultimately sued over the arrest on First Amendment and other grounds and won an appeals court ruling in the ongoing case in April 2024.

Bustillos, who lives in nearby Carlsbad and runs a YouTube channel under the name “Stray Dog the Exposer,” told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was filming outside of the Navajo Refinery, owned by HF Sinclair Corporation, to make a video about the local oil industry.

He said he was careful to stay outside of the refinery’s property line and explained what he was doing to an approaching security guard. He continued livestreaming for his protection, in case his phone was confiscated and video deleted, Bustillos told the Tracker.

The security guard then made a suspicious person report to the police, according to court documents reviewed by the Tracker. Two police officers approached and asked Bustillos for identification. He refused, explaining while continuing to film that he was on public property, had not broken any laws and was an independent journalist gathering content for stories.

Officer David Bailey then arrested Bustillos on a charge of concealing his identity. He was transported to the Artesia Police Department’s Holding Facility and then to the Eddy County Detention Center, where he was held for 48 hours, he told the Tracker. He was convicted by Eddy County Magistrate Court in December and sentenced to 182 days of supervised probation and $73 in fees.

Bustillos then appealed to the Eddy County District Court, which found him not guilty in April 2020 after a bench trial and remanded the case to the magistrate court to be dismissed.

In September 2020, Bustillos sued the City of Artesia and Bailey in Eddy County District Court for violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights, arguing that the arrest had been in retaliation for his refusal to identify himself and for questioning its basis. The case was transferred to the U.S. District Court in New Mexico a month later.

Bustillos’ attorney Joseph P. Kennedy told the Tracker that the defendants offered to settle with Bustillos after he filed his case, but that he refused.

In March 2022, the court denied the defendants’ attempt to dismiss Bustillos’ claims of constitutional rights violations, ruling that Bailey lacked reasonable suspicion for arresting Bustillos and therefore lacked qualified immunity. The defendants appealed.

On April 17, 2024, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit affirmed the denial. The underlying case remains ongoing in federal court.

“We are very happy with the decision. Police may not demand identification from any person standing on a public sidewalk, obeying all laws,” Kennedy told the Tracker.

“I applaud Albert’s courage to turn down a monetary settlement so that his arrest can stand as a valuable precedent for freedom of an independent press,” Kennedy added. “His actions and the decision will result in less harassment and more freedom for news gatherers.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].