Standing outside Dave and Buster's in Times Square on a summer evening isn't many New Yorkers' idea of a good time, but police accountability activist Roy Beckford got a taste of how much worse things can get in an absurd incident last summer.

Beckford was walking past the West 42nd Street establishment with friends at about 11 p.m. on a weeknight in June 2016 when he noticed NYPD Officer Michael Ashford leaning against the wall fiddling with his personal cellphone, according to a lawsuit being filed today in Manhattan federal court. Most people would not have dwelled on this sight amid the chaos of Times Square, but Beckford is not most people—he and his compatriots are members of the group Copwatch Patrol Unit, which roams the streets and the internet documenting police activity. So Beckford started to film Ashford, and Ashford demanded Beckford's identification, according to the suit (in New York, police can only detain a person if they believe that he committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, and people are not required to carry ID, although they may be detained for the purpose of identification if they are being written a summons or arrested).

Video shot by a fellow cop watcher picks up what happened next:

In the clip, Officer Ashford grabs at the phone of another man filming, then pushes him, ordering, "Go over there." He then returns his attention to Beckford, demanding identification, and reaching for his phone.

"Nope. No," Beckford says, backing up.

Ashford grabs him again, this time by the wrist, and tells him he's under arrest. As Ashford awaits a supervisor, Beckford and company bombard him with whataboutery based in the law and the patrol guide. When Beckford asks what he's being arrested for, Ashford says obstructing governmental administration, a misdemeanor for interfering with police work.

From there, Beckford was hauled down to the Midtown South NYPD precinct station house, where cops took his phone, the suit says. He was released at 1 a.m. with a ticket for disorderly conduct, a violation, and upon getting his phone back, he allegedly found that his video of the encounter had been deleted.

The disorderly conduct summons, signed off on by a Sergeant Tanakur Chowdhury, was dismissed before Beckford's court date, and last November the Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated three allegations total of abuse of authority against Chowdhury and Ashford. The CCRB recommended that Ashford be retrained, and that Chowdhury be docked vacation days. Whether those penalties were ultimately imposed is unknown because the NYPD commissioner has final say over what to do with substantiated disciplinary complaints, and the department started keeping disciplinary actions secret last year after decades of disclosing them.

An NYPD spokesperson said that both officers are on active duty.

Beckford's lawsuit seeks damages for the officers allegedly violating his rights and destroying his documentation.

"He was taken off the street in handcuffs and placed in a cell for a number of hours," Beckford's lawyer David Rankin said. "If a private citizen took someone off the street in the manner that this police officer took Mr. Beckford off the street, they’d be facing felony kidnapping charges. So, just because somebody is annoyed does not give a police officer anything that resembles the right to handcuff them and place them in a cage."

He added, "It certainly seems to us that the officer deleting video is evidence that the officer knew that his conduct was wrong."

The suit claims that the NYPD has a "custom and practice" of making retaliatory arrests of people observing and documenting police activity, citing 13 instances of wrongful arrests of journalists, 28 of arrests of concerned citizen photographers and videographers, and 5 of observers of the police, dating back to 2005. Four of the citations refer to Gothamist stories.

Last Thursday, a federal judge dismissed a suit by police accountability activist Ruben An, who had been arrested under similar circumstances and was seeking a court injunction barring officers from arresting people solely for recording them in public. In her decision, Judge Lorna Schofield wrote that the six lawsuits and New York Times article cited by An's lawyers "do not plausibly support an inference of a widespread illegal custom of violating individuals’ First Amendment rights."

A 2014 memo to all NYPD personnel reminded officers that filming police activity is not a crime, and said that interfering with people recording "constitutes censorship." Similarly, in 2011, following the repeated arrests of reporters during Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, then-commissioner Ray Kelly wrote a memo instructing officers not to interfere with journalists on the job.

"We actually think is evidence of the policy" of illegally arresting people who document police activity, Rankin said of the memos. "Why on earth are they having to say, 'Please stop arresting people for observing police behavior' if they’re not arresting people for observing police behavior?"

A Law Department spokesman said that agency lawyers will review Beckford's suit when they are served.