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YouTuber, self-proclaimed ‘First Amendment’ auditor gets 6 months behind bars

Updated April 1, 2024 - 10:11 am

When it came time for YouTuber Jose “Chille” DeCastro to be sentenced on an obstructing justice charge for interfering with a Las Vegas police traffic stop, the prosecutor wanted him to be placed on probation.

But Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman had other ideas.

She ordered DeCastro to serve 180 days in the Clark County Detention Center after finding him guilty in a March bench trial.

The self-proclaimed “First Amendment auditor” and “constitutional scholar” had been accused of intentionally getting in the way of an officer to film a traffic stop, and refusing to back up when asked.

“Is that suspended?” DeCastro’s attorney asked, questioning if the 180-day sentence would act as more of a deterrent while DeCastro was on probation.

“Oh no, it’s going to start right now,” the judge announced as she stood to walk out of the courtroom, while marshals handcuffed DeCastro. In a bench trial, a judge renders a verdict, rather than a jury.

This wasn’t the first time DeCastro, 49, has been in trouble with law enforcement. He told police officers he had been arrested four other times for filming police across the country, according to body-camera footage.

His YouTube channel, Delete Lawz, with more than 500,000 subscribers, is full of hundreds of videos where he spends hours talking about police body-camera recordings and footage from other self-proclaimed auditors. In some of his videos, he films his own interactions with police officers, where he frequently curses at officers or calls them “pigs.”

The channel advertises DeCastro’s various cash apps and a $25 flier — titled “Learn the Law. Know Your Rights” — that DeCastro claims he will ship to customers from Los Angeles, although court records indicate he currently lives in Henderson. At the trial before Zimmerman, DeCastro claimed he makes his money by “selling legal documents to people.”

“It seems to me from observing him in the video that he wants this,” the judge said after finding DeCastro guilty. “He wants to get arrested, he wants to get into an altercation with police officers. He welcomes this, this helps his YouTube channel.”

A parking lot traffic stop

On March 15, 2023, DeCastro walked up to a woman who had been pulled over by a police officer in a parking lot near Flamingo Road and Grand Canyon Drive. Body-camera footage showed the officer, Branden Bourque, step out of his car and tell DeCastro to back away and stop speaking with the driver.

“You can film, but you need to stay away from my driver,” the officer said.

DeCastro and the officer argued for the next minute and a half, until DeCastro said: “Mind your business. I’m a member of the press. Go get in your car and do you job, little doggie.”

The officer told DeCastro he was being detained.

Body-worn camera footage showed DeCastro being placed in handcuffs and standing in front of a police vehicle as multiple officers arrived for backup. While waiting for a sergeant to arrive on scene, DeCastro continued to insult officers, occasionally using graphic sexual language. He also told officers multiple times that they were hurting his arms.

By the time a sergeant arrived at the scene, DeCastro told multiple officers he would sue them, and asked repeatedly not to be taken to jail.

“What you’re doing is fine,” the sergeant told him. “You just can’t get involved in the middle of a car stop, that’s all. So hopefully lesson learned from here on out.”

Court records show that DeCastro was arrested again on Feb. 14, at the scene of a fatal hit-and-run crash near Charleston and Decatur boulevards. Footage posted to DeCastro’s YouTube page showed him telling officers to “shut up” and “mind your business” when they asked what he was doing at the crime scene.

He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of obstruction in Las Vegas Municipal Court, where he is scheduled to appear on May 1.

Contentious bench trial

At the beginning of DeCastro’s bench trial on March 19, he called a courtroom marshal a “pig” after the judge told him to turn over his phone. Zimmerman said she hadn’t approved a media request for DeCastro to record the hearing.

Zimmerman threatened to hold DeCastro in contempt of court until he apologized to the marshal.

Later in the trial, DeCastro was seen shaking his head when the prosecutor, Chief Deputy District Attorney Agnes Botelho, argued that DeCastro had been detained to protect the officer’s safety after he would not follow instructions.

“This is not a First Amendment issue,” Botelho told the judge. “As you heard over and over and over again on the video, officer Bourque did not have a problem with the defendant recording.”

DeCastro’s attorney, Michael Mee, argued that although Bourque testified that officers are trained to instruct people to stand about 20 feet back from a scene, that training is not supported by any federal law. He argued that DeCastro had a First Amendment right to film the officer and speak to the driver, and that he was illegally detained for it.

Bourque testified that although DeCastro “swatted” at him, he did not believe that DeCastro was trying to hurt him.

“The case law is you can passively resist an unlawful arrest,” Mee said.

Mee did not respond to a request for comment.

Before convicting DeCastro, the judge noted that his defense attorney’s argument did not address the officer’s safety concerns. Later in the hearing, as Zimmerman was speaking about DeCastro’s apparent hatred of police, DeCastro nodded his head and flashed the judge a thumbs up sign.

“He called the officers here in my courtroom today pigs, and he’s nodding his head, so apparently he hates every law enforcement officer in the United States,” Zimmerman said, shortly before sentencing DeCastro to jail time.

As he was handcuffed at the end of the trial, DeCastro claimed it was a “travesty of justice” that he was being sent to jail.

DeCastro has since hired prominent Las Vegas defense attorney Christopher Oram to represent him for an appeal. Oram declined further comment on the case on Thursday. DeCastro has also filed a motion for him to be released from jail or be granted bail.

DeCastro appeared in court again on Monday, where his bail request was denied.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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