Alameda County Sgt. David Shelby was arguing with police brutality protesters, and admitted he hoped the song would trigger YouTube’s automated copyright system

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police play Taylor Swift
David Shelby
| Credit: APTP/Twitter

A California sheriff's deputy is under investigation after playing a Taylor Swift song during a filmed confrontation with protesters Tuesday, admitting he hoped the song would trigger YouTube's automated copyright system and keep footage of the argument off the video platform.

Protesters had come to the Alameda County Courthouse for a hearing in the voluntary manslaughter case against Jason Fletcher, a former police officer in San Leandro, Calif., charged in the 2020 fatal shooting of Steven Taylor, a Black man holding a baseball bat who allegedly tried to leave a Walmart without paying.

James Burch, a member of the Oakland-based Anti Police-Terror Project, told The Washington Post that police had told him and his fellow protesters to remove banners they'd placed on the steps of the courthouse. Burch said the now-viral video picks up during an argument over the placement of the banners.

During the video, Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. David Shelby, having noticed that one of the protesters is recording the encounter, takes out his phone and begins playing Taylor Swift's 2014 song "Blank Space."

At that point, a puzzled Burch asks, "Are we having a dance party?"

Another person off camera says, "Are you playing pop music to drown out the conversation?"

Shelby tells the protesters, "You can record all you want, I just know it can't be posted on YouTube."

Moments later, a different person off camera says, "You'd only do that if you knew you were being an a------, dude."

When Burch asks, "Is this procedure for the Alameda County Sheriff's Department?," Shelby responds, "It's not specifically outlined."

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Later, Shelby says, "I'm playing my music so that you can't post it on YouTube."

A spokesperson for the sheriff's office told KGO the matter had been referred to internal affairs for a possible code of conduct violation against Shelby.

"I think everybody agrees that that's not a good look for law enforcement and for our agency in regards to what looks like an attempt to censor YouTube content by triggering a copyright algorithm or alert," Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office told the outlet.

A YouTube spokesperson told NBC Bay Area the company's copyright provisions are more complicated than presented by Shelby: The music has to be sufficiently loud, and the policy varies depending on music labels, the spokesperson said.

As of Friday morning, video of the encounter posted by the Anti Police-Terror Project was still up on YouTube, and had received about 164,000 views.