A pair of YouTubers have been causing a stir at local government buildings in Alabama.

The self-proclaimed independent journalists and First Amendment auditors Lana Patrick of “J-Town Press” and Russell Pickron of “Georgia Transparency” each have YouTube channels dedicated to recording videos inside courthouses, city halls and other government buildings across the Southeast to allegedly provide transparency for the public.

Though they claim to be exercising their First Amendment rights and are breaking no laws by recording in public spaces, they’ve had many run-ins with local law enforcement while videoing, leading to multiple arrests and lawsuits.

Such was the case recently at the Marshall County Courthouse in Guntersville. On May 18, the two entered through the front security checkpoint with cameras rolling and made their way down the hallway, offering brief commentary on whatever they could see. It was when they went into the Revenue Commissioner's office that things became confrontational.

“Just taking some video and pictures,” Pickron said to the confused employees who asked why they were there. “I’m with myself, independent.”

Multiple employees who were sitting at their work desks told Pickron and Patrick they did not give their permission to be filmed.

“I don’t need it. You’re in public,” Patrick responded.

“You didn’t ask my permission to film me with your cameras,” Pickron said, referring to the office’s security cameras.

County Revenue Commissioner Michael Johnson, who later described the incident as “unnerving” to 1819 News, then asked them to step outside to have a conversation, but Patrick and Pickron refused to leave and kept videoing in the lobby area.

“I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on,” Johnson said in the video. “...I’ve got to be concerned about the safety of my employees.”

He explained that Marshall County sheriff’s deputies told him that recording of any kind was not allowed inside offices.

“Is there a reason you won’t tell me what you’re doing?” he asked.

“Because I don’t have to,” Patrick responded. “You’re kind of coming off rude, so I’m choosing not to.”

“How can I be polite that would allow you to be comfortable speaking about what you’re doing?”

“Well, if you could give me a good smile, that might disarm me a little bit.”

Lt. Tom Sorell then entered the scene and told Patrick and Pickron they could not video inside the office area and needed to leave or else they would be arrested. After telling them three more times to get out, Sorell arrested Patrick and confiscated his camera.

“Sir, I was just about to leave. I was just about to leave, sir,” Patrick said as he was handcuffed.

Patrick was charged with third-degree criminal trespass, obstructing government operations and disorderly conduct/disturbing the peace. Sheriff Phil Sims said Patrick’s gender was marked as “unknown” in the booking report since Patrick was listed as male in the system but identified as female.

Screenshot 2024 05 26 at 9 48 34 PM Alabama News

After Pickron posted the video of the arrest and a subsequent video calling for Sorrells' termination, Sims and Johnson said their offices were inundated with phone calls from people angry over what they saw. Sims also said the Sheriff’s Office's Facebook page was full of rude, explicit comments.

Despite the backlash, the sheriff said he fully supported his deputy's actions.

“I think my deputy did an outstanding job in the way he handled it, and I back him 100%.”

Similar scenes have played out in multiple Alabama counties, including Birmingham, Fort Payne, Gadsden, and Huntsville, as well as Florida and Georgia, where Patrick and Pickron tried to video in other government buildings. Their YouTube channels contain hundreds of videos, sometimes with Patrick and Pickron together and sometimes videoing solo.

In their most recent video, posted Sunday, the duo went to the Huntsville Airport, where they were met with more confused employees who didn't want to be videoed.

“Recording in publicly accessible areas to showcase to the people what the Huntsville airport looks like appeared to not be accepting by some staff,” the description of the “Georgia Transparency” video read. “Staff working at the information desk must make command decisions for the airport. As she stated she did not give me consent to record anything here. When police attempted to educate the staff, the staff appeared to not like it and acted unprofessionally.”

Another of Pickron’s videos from February shows him getting into a heated argument with Dekalb County Commission President Ricky Harcrow at the commission chambers in Fort Payne. After being asked to leave the building and stop filming, police were called in. Officers ultimately said he was allowed to be there, provided he didn’t go into any offices.

“I’m going to continue walking in my building, in my public building, and there is nothing you’re going to do about it,” Pickron said to Harcrow after calling him “a piece of crap” earlier in the video.

In another video, Patrick scuffles with a security guard in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse for domestic relations in Birmingham. Earlier in the video, after being denied entry to the courthouse and arguing with the security guard, Pickron flags down a Birmingham Police officer outside, saying he feared he was going to get shot.

A chyron at the bottom of the Marshall County Courthouse video posted to “Georgia Transparency” reads, “Alabama appears to be a failed state, with suppression against the people when exercising constitutional rights.”

Sheriff Phil Sims told 1819 News that he supports civil rights “100%,” but what Patrick and Pickron did crossed a line.

“There’s a lot of common areas in the courthouse,” Sims said. “That’s fair game; nothing wrong with that. But they went into the Revenue Commissioner's Office and I think started to cause a commotion.”

“The whole time they were in there, based on what we’ve seen on video, they were very confrontational about why they were there, could not give a reason to the Revenue Commissioner why they were there, no legitimate reason,” he continued. “Even though that is a lobby there, that is an individual office where people from our county go and conduct business, and I don’t think none of our people want to be recorded on video conducting official business where some of their information could be exposed.”

Sims said despite their stated goal of promoting free speech, he believed Patrick and Pickron really wanted to “get clicks” for their YouTube channels.

“That’s all they wanted was clicks for their YouTube channel. They didn’t care about anybody’s rights, they didn’t care about anybody else except for themselves, and we’re just not going to tolerate that here in Marshall County,” he said.

1819 News tried contacting Patrick and Pickron via the emails listed on their YouTube channels but received no response.

On his YouTube channel, Pickron described “Georgia Transparency” as aiming “to hold our public employees accountable and ensure they are providing courteous and professional service. We want to make sure that our rights do not get violated by any public official in the course of their duties.”

In a February video announcing a civil rights lawsuit against employees at a Jacksonville, Florida courthouse, Patrick said, “The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments, so let’s keep letting freedom reign.”

According to thejtownpress.com, Patrick “is an Air Force veteran and patriot from New Orleans, LA… raised to have faith in GOD and love for her country.”

“The main focus of her channel is to root out tyranny and put it on display. She wants to inspire other people to get educated on their rights as she too is constantly learning,” the site reads.

Patrick's court date in Marshall County has yet to be set.

To connect with the story's author or comment, email daniel.taylor@1819news.com or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.