Who is Travis Greene?
The Index-Journal hoped to ask the co-founder of Greenwood’s Black Lives Matter that very question, but it and others went unanswered after Greene — a self-proclaimed “First Amendment auditor” who frequently uses the state’s Freedom of Information Act law — backed out of a planned interview with the newspaper.
Greene originally responded to a text message from an Index-Journal reporter saying he was available for an in-person interview the night of Aug. 21 but did not respond when asked for a time to meet.
On Aug. 23, the newspaper emailed Greene asking for a face-to-face meeting and did not receive a reply. A second email was transmitted the morning of Aug. 27.
Shortly afterward, a reporter saw Greene in the parking lot of City Hall. He said he had “just read” the email and offered to meet at 4 p.m. that day, but did not show up to the newspaper’s office or contact the Index-Journal indicating he’d be late. Greene called an Index-Journal reporter from the cellphone that was texted a day before on a separate matter.
He also appeared to have removed his personal Facebook page from public view following the newspaper’s attempts to contact him, along with that of Greenwood’s Black Lives Matter group, although the latter was restored days later by another page administrator.
However, public records and his own social media footprint provide a glimpse into Greene’s past.
The LinkedIn page, which remains active, lists him as a “certified grant writer, professional fundraiser, nonprofit consultant, nonprofit legal analyst” for “1st Priority Consulting, LP,” of which he’s a registered agent, according to a state business license search.
State records also confirm Greene is the registered agent of “Living Hearts Foundation,” described on his LinkedIn as a “nonprofit organization.”
However, changes to the profile have been made, including removal of a reference that Greene studied criminal defense at the Howard University School of Law. A spokesman for the school told the Index-Journal Greene was never enrolled there.
The Index-Journal, through a Freedom of Information Act request, also learned that Greene, using one of several phone numbers, called the Greenwood County 911 dispatch center 127 times between January 2018 and July 31. A spreadsheet of the nature of those calls shows most of them were recorded as “SIG69,” shorthand for a signal code used by law enforcement when a person calls with or requests information.
He also sent 30 Freedom of Information Act requests to city officials from Jan. 1, 2018 to Aug. 1, 2019 asking on repeated occasions for body camera and dashboard camera footage from several incidents, along with an “itemized report” of all traffic and parking fines from Jan. 1, 2018 to Jan. 1, 2019, personnel and disciplinary records and, on May 8, an evidence intake log and release policy.
“Specifically for firearms and live ammunition,” it says.
“The city understands and appreciates the intent of the Freedom of Information Act and its commitment to transparency. We try to be forthright with providing information to be as transparent as possible,” City Manager Julie Wilkie said. “However, I believe that often the intent of the law can be misconstrued and become burdensome to public officials.”
In March, Greene was slated to appear before City Council to propose setting up an independent review board with subpoena power to look into complaints of excessive force or profiling by police.
He didn’t show up to that meeting but did make it to one in May along with Bruce Wilson, another organizer of the Greenwood Black Lives Matter chapter.
In his letter, Greene said “low and middle-class communities within the city are joining in efforts to establish a citizen review board with subpoena power and the authority to recommend sanctions for misconduct, lack of investigation and other unbecoming traits of a public protector.”
The Index-Journal planned to ask Greene whether his own criminal background was pertinent to his current role in pushing for outside accountability for local law enforcement, what training or certification he’s received in law and whether the local Black Lives Matter chapter is involved with any area civic groups.
A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division background check on Greene shows he’s served jail time on a felony charge — with a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor still being adjudicated.
He also has misdemeanor charges related to fraudulent checks and financial transaction card forgery.
On Oct. 20, 2011, Greene was sentenced to 4 years in prison suspended after 30 days served and 60 months’ probation after pleading guilty to forgery, less than $10,000.
Greene on June 28 requested a jury trial in Greenville General Sessions Court related to his April 11 arrest by the Mauldin Police Department on one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Mauldin authorities have not responded to multiple requests by the Index-Journal for an incident report related to the spring arrest — documents that are considered public under the Freedom of Information Act.
The newspaper also wanted to ask Greene about a June 18 Facebook post made a day after city police officer Benjamin Baker was awarded a life-saving medal after he stopped a person from bleeding to death in the spring.
“For all the people asking for me to allow comments or see my post about Officer Baker ‘saving’ a life and receiving a award. Here’s my post!! “Congrat-u-(expletive)-lations, he did his damn job to protect and serve!!” How about rendering first aid to a shooting victim while other officers are securing the scene,’” Greene posted. “Chief Gerald Brooks, Major Urban Mitchell, PIO Jonathan Link…RESIGN, you’re worthless to Greenwood.”
First Amendment audits
In August, Greene was given a $20,000 settlement and received a public apology from the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services after he sued the agency for defamation, outrage and gross negligence in June.
That’s two months after Greene was forcibly removed from a common area within the department’s Anderson facility where he was conducting a “first amendment audit,” in which he enters public spaces with a video camera to “ensure that our state’s public servants and officials do not try to unlawfully limit any citizen’s First Amendment rights,” according to a description of the practice included in the lawsuit Greene filed.
Two weeks after Greene’s confrontation with state agency officials — who were informed by Anderson police that Greene was acting within his rights and would not be placed on trespass notice — the department included Greene on its website as a “most wanted offender.”
Greene then contacted the department after learning of his status and was “assured” there had been a misunderstanding and that his information would be removed from the website.
Instead, the lawsuit asserts, the department inserted over a photograph of Greene’s face the word “CAPTURED” in red print.
Greene’s audits have also made him a familiar face in Greenwood County, conducting them at locations including the detention center, library, Ninety Six and Greenwood city town halls, the Social Security administration office and Leath Correctional Institution, among others.
In February, Greene carried out a self-proclaimed “audit” of Greenwood’s North Creek Boulevard Postal Service facility, opening the 19-minute, 52-second video with the words “Tyrant P.O.S. (piece of ) postal workers” on screen, three seconds in. It picks up soon after Greene claims the branch’s manager “physically assaulted” him for recording customers in the lobby.
Greene refers to himself as an “independent journalist,” and a “journalist” throughout the video, telling police and customers that he’s working on a story.
On Aug. 7, Greene posted to YouTube a 21-minute clip of him inside the Greenwood Commissioners of Public Works’ Court Avenue West headquarters.
He walks inside and makes a beeline for the office of General Manager Jeff Meredith.
“We’re going to see if they respect our right to record in public,” Greene says as he enters.
He tells Meredith’s administrative assistant he’s “taking a video tour of the building.”
“OK,” she responds.
Five minutes into the video, CPW customer accounts director Wayne Bartley approaches Greene. In the clip that he posted to YouTube, Greene edited in the words “Dummy Alert!!!” with red sirens on either side of him.
“Are you videoing us for a reason, or?” Bartley asks.
“Well, I’m not videoing you, until you walked up to my camera,” Greene said.
“Can I ask you why, just because we have customers in here,” Bartley said.
“I understand, but I don’t answer questions. What’s your name?” Greene said. Bartley replied, and then asked Greene for his name.
“Don’t have one. You can refer to me as good citizen,” Greene replied.
“OK, all right sir, thank you,” Bartley said, before walking away.
He then follows Bartley and says, “Oh please, call the police.”
“Just tell them ‘South Carolina Accountability.’ They know who I am,” Greene said as a CPW employee describes him over the phone.
Greenwood Police Capt. Chris Morgan arrives a few minutes after the phone call.
“Mr. Greene, can I talk to you outside,” Morgan asks. “No sir,” Greene responds. “Only way I’m going to leave is if I’m being placed on trespass.”
Greene told Morgan he wasn’t recording any personal information and “I don’t need you to give me instructions.”
Morgan told Greene not to record personal information. “If you do, you’re going to be in violation,” Morgan said, before leaving. Greene said he would remain on premises until that trespass order was given.
“Y’all get some rules posted, we’ll be happy to take care of it,” Morgan said as he departed. Greene told employees CPW’s board would need to authorize the action or “otherwise, I’m going to be right here doing it again because I have every right to do so.”
Greene then told CPW’s billing employees that since their customers are in public, “they have no expectation of privacy.”
An employee told Morgan the list of regulations would be completed by 5 p.m. that day.
“Congratulations, you just learned a lesson on the First Amendment,” Greene said. “And just because of it, I’m going to record until 5 o’ clock today.”
The employee calls a co-worker and asked for a set of regulations to be drafted for approval by CPW’s governing board, which Greene incorrectly refers to as a “board of directors.”
Greene chastises Bartley and CPW’s customers who are attempting to do business in the lobby.
“If you give out private information in public, that’s on you,” Greene said. “There is no expectation of privacy in public. That’s why the police officer walked out. You want to try me on it?”
Bartley said Greene would not be removed.
“I know exactly what I’m doing. This isn’t my first rodeo. Congratulations, you’re learning about the First Amendment today,” Greene said.
Lisa Clark, CPW’s chief financial officer, appears a short time later. A man off-camera tries to speak with Greene, who then describes his role.
“What I want you to understand is, this is my purpose for doing what I do. I’m a First Amendment auditor. It is my job to educate people on the First Amendment and rights that we have,” Greene said. “So by me coming into a public lobby and recording, and somebody feels uncomfortable, you may say that’s a disturbance. Me recording cannot constitute a disturbance. The Supreme Court has ruled on that.”
Before concluding the video, Greene said he “can stand here all day and record anybody I want to doing anything I want to. If they give out their Social Security number, I have every right to record it. They’re saying it out loud. This is a public space.”
Greene said he would choose not to reveal such information publicly “just because I have a moral conscience but if I chose to elect not to do so, then there is nothing the law can do about it as well.”
Greene asked for a Freedom of Information request to be fulfilled, recording CPW officials saying they’d comply.
One day after Greene’s appearance, CPW’s Board of Commissioners approved a conduct policy that bars “unreasonably disruptive behavior,” including loitering and taking “multiple pictures or videoing on CPW property” without prior consent.
“This policy is not the result of any one person’s actions. We have had customers and others cause disruption in the office in the past. As a way to protect our customers and employees, we decided to implement a Code of Conduct policy that applies to all of our locations. This policy is not intended to prohibit anyone’s rights; however, it does provide expectations for how they should conduct themselves while on CPW property,” Meredith said.