Brandon Jordan, Tristan Taptengco and Jake Koehler are kind of a big deal on YouTube.
Between the three of them, they have more than 2.6 million subscribers who watch their videos on fishing, swimming and diving to the bottom of the Chattahoochee to clean up trash, rescue animals and look for interesting treasures.
But their activities clashed with the law last week when Jordan filmed an encounter he and Taptengco had with Cpl. Daniel Dawson of the Columbus Police Department. The video, titled “Harassed by Police for Cleaning up the River.... (Unbelievable),” has been viewed more than 400,000 times since it was posted July 23.
It shows the divers picking cans up from the riverbed before an officer calls them to the RiverWalk Island. When they meet him at the park, he tells them he is citing them for swimming without life vests.
Jordan begins to argue with the officer, saying that he was clearly wearing his life jacket the entire time. The officer says he wasn’t.
“I have everything fully recorded, I was wearing this vest the whole time. I can go underwater, I just have to hold on to stuff,” Jordan tells the officer.
Officer Dawson says that if his body camera showed Jordan with his vest on, he would not have to pay the citation.
Footage included in Jordan’s video of when the officer originally calls them over to the island does confirm that Jordan was wearing his life vest at the time.
Later, the video shows the officer speaking to Jordan and saying that he will not be getting a citation after all.
“If I catch you in the river without a vest on, you will get a citation. Today, you’re not getting one, because that vest does blend in, and I cannot 100 percent say that you did not have that on,” Dawson said.
The other diver, Taptengco, was shirtless and accepted his fine. He will pay $250.
“We’re super passionate about it, we do a lot of good things here and at the end of the day, you have to obey the laws,” Jordan says later in the video. “It just kind of sucks that there’s no leniency here. We’re all dive certified, we’re all professionally certified to do this type of stuff. We’ve spent a lot of time in this river and for them to just straight-up pull out the paperwork on us, I just didn’t like that.”
Columbus Fire Marshall Ricky Shores said that he is aware of the treasure hunters and their skills, but that the ordinance is clear.
“We can’t bend the rules for anyone,” he said. “Even our swift-water rescuers can get into trouble on those rapids.”
Sgt. Art Sheldon at the Columbus Police Department agreed, but said that as long as they are wearing life vests, including inflatable ones, they should be good to go.
Jordan told the Ledger-Enquirer that he’s received some flack about how he handled the situation with the officer.
“I probably could have handled it another way,” he said, “but at the end of the day I was standing up for myself. I couldn’t believe that was about to happen.”
Jordan says his team plans to do another video based on safety to educate others about the importance of river safety and life vests.
“It was never a fight against the vests, it was a fight against the ticket,” he said. “We’re actually going to do a video where we’re going to embrace the city’s rules, and talk about safety, and how we’re going to take these steps to get people on the right page, and make sure nobody’s rubbed the wrong way.”
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE