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News & Insight

$50K Says You Are Not a Criminal & Photography Is No Longer a Crime – In LA

By Kishore Sawh on March 10th 2015

Never stop fighting the good fight. Well, I guess the good fight is somewhat subjective depending on what side of the fence you stand. While we may be divided in our methods, our choice of equipment camps, our idea of beauty, and in just about any conceivable way, we tend to stand united on when it comes to freedom of our craft – specifically the freedom to record, photograph, and express ourselves in keeping with constitutional rights; rights which have been challenged and flat-out bulldozed by a post 9/11 mind-set, and law enforcement that acts under the ambiguity of the law.

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Well that ambiguity is a little more clear these days, and especially for LA County Sheriffs. Three photographers, Shan Nee, Greggory Moore, and Shane Quentin have been successfully represented by the ACLU Foundation for Southern California, who won suit against the county and certain deputies in 2011. In what is essentially a landmark case, the suit was based around the violation of the First and Fourth Amendment rights by searching, questioning, and detaining the three men without due cause. The photographers involved in the suit were photographing metro-rail turnstiles, refiners, and another was photographing traffic for a news story.

The settlement will include $50,000 in damages, and will stipulate training for deputies who are interacting with the photographers and other members of the public who happen to be photographing in public areas.

The training established by this settlement should ensure that photographers around Los Angeles County — as well as the general public — can exercise their right to free expression without unnecessary harassment.

The training will be supplied through a newsletter and will detail the LASD policy, and clearly state that members of the public, “have a First Amendment right to observe, take photographs, and record video in any public place where they are lawfully present.” It will specifically prohibit, “….interfering, threatening, intimidating, blocking or otherwise discouraging” photographers from taking photos or video unless they are violating a law.

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[REWIND: A Major Lawsuit Is On To Defend The Right To Take Pictures In Public]

Essentially, it’s training for deputies that will assure them they can do their jobs without limiting the rights of the public. In a nutshell, this is what photographers have been arguing should be done for ages, and hopefully, this ruling will carry weight in future conflicts and suits which will surely arise across the country, and the world, until the vilification of photographers is done with. Maybe this is the start of recognition, as the LA Weekly titled their coverage of the event, that “Photography Is No Longer A Crime In LA.”

You can read the full settlement here, and you may do well to carry around a copy of the LASD Policy Newsletter if around the LA area.

Source: ACLU

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. J. Dennis Thomas

    Funny thing that I mentioned how Austin cops were pretty cool about photos. Last night I was taking a break from work and I was standing on the street corner watching the drunks and I noticed the cops arresting a guy in full construction gear, hardhat and everything. I thought it was funny because it was about 1am and you typically don’t see construction workers down town past 4pm.

    Anyway, the cop came up to me ask me who I was working for and then asked me “what do you think you’re doing? Trying to catch us violating people’s civil rights?” He was on the offensive although I had done nothing wrong and I was far enough away that I was at 105mm.

    Trickle-down effect from Ferguson? I dunno. But that’s the first time I’ve had a cop approach me after the fact to question me.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      I’m guessing it has more to do with police feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated right now. The cop could have been having a bad night and you don’t know how many cameras were pointed at him that week.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      He didn’t have a problem with the food vendor I was talking to when he came over. He was quite nice to him. Especially when he got a free sandwich. Trust me, he wasn’t having a bad night. He was hanging around in a group of 12 cops on the corner doing jack.

      He did to me what comes naturally to most cops. He acted like a bully.

      After reviewing the photo, it wasn’t even the cop that was making the arrest that approached me. I never even pointed a camera at him. Also, even if a million cameras were pointed at him that week he has no right to hassle me about it. I’m sure he didn’t go up to the chief this morning and hassle him about the cameras in the squad cars or the cameras on the streets constantly surveilling him (and me).

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      “He did to me what comes naturally to most cops. He acted like a bully. ”

      I hate reading comments like that because it’s just not true. In fact you even stated earlier in the comments that most of the cops in your area are ok with being photographed. One cop goes off on you and now “most” cops are bullies? That doesn’t make sense.

      I certainly don’t know everyone’s experience with cops and I don’t doubt that there are some cops who enjoy being bullies, but for the past 7 months I have photographed and interacted with more police here in Ferguson than I have ever encountered in my life. Not one of those cops has ever tried to threaten, intimidate or bully me. In fact during this time of “civil unrest” the only time I’ve been threatened, intimidated and bullied were by the so-called “peaceful protesters”.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Throughout my life I have experienced and seen more cops being bullies than being fair. Mostly because I fit a stereotype that they perceive as “criminal”.

      I’m glad you’ve had a more positive experience, but I was relating what happened to me last night filtered through my personal experience with cops in general.

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  2. Steven Pellegrino

    I’ve just spent the past 18 or so hours surrounded by police here in Ferguson. Last night, during a protest, two cops were shot. I was woken up at 12:30am regarding this and headed out to the scene. After several hours of verbal abuse and having things thrown at them by protesters and finally having two of their own shot, you’d expect to encounter cops who were mad with a low tolerance for people like me jockeying for position to get a photo. But they were (and always have been during these protests) nice, polite and accommodating.

    The scene was blocked off from the public for about 15 hours. When I headed back there this afternoon they had just cleared it and I was the first photographer there. One of the cops from another department remembered me from September and invited me, before other photographers, onto the parking lot of the Ferguson Police Department to show me all of the threatening things (some death threats) aimed at police that were written in chalk on the lot a couple of hours before the officers were shot. During my 30 or so minutes there several cops came up to me and thanked me for taking the photos because mainstream media wouldn’t do it. Across the street from me were most of the major media outlets – CNN, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC, plus the local affiliates and international networks. Not one of them were interested in the threats protesters aimed at the police.

    Every time I show up to these scenes I always greet the police (with a “sir”) and let them know who I am and who I’m shooting for. A little respect, eye contact and politeness towards them goes a long way and in the long run your pay back can be access to restricted areas and just knowing someone is looking out for you.

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    • robert garfinkle

      I like this Steve – excellent

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    • Ben Perrin

      Thanks Steve. It’s great to hear a perspective from someone who has experience and knowledge of these situations. I agree, a little respect can go a long way.

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  3. Graham Curran

    This is something I feel strongly about. At last a bit of common sense.

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  4. John Cavan

    Not specific to this judgement, but I do think there’s a bit of a bias to the bad encounters. I do think the frequency is way too much, but I also think we never really hear of the many times that people take photographs without any issue. Now, being Canadian, the laws are a tad different here, but the same in their essential state.

    As an anecdote, I have a friend who loves to photograph movie sets in Toronto and he gets a chance to do so about once a month or so. At any point, one time he was trying to take some pictures of a crew filming on the street when one of the crew members told him to stop. My friend replied that he had a legal right to photograph what was in public, so the crew member ran and got a cop. The cop then told the guy that he has the right to photograph and walked away.

    The point, I guess, is that it is absolutely necessary to hold police forces to account with respect to these rights, but it’s also worth remembering that you’re more likely to hear about the cop that got it wrong as opposed to the ones that got it right.

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  5. Ralph Hightower

    That’s a great ruling. As long as they legally have a right to be where they are, they must have the right to photography with the exception of being in the way of emergency crews like fire and ambulance.

    Now, there are instances where stupidity has been the norm, like that paparazzi who was hit by Beiber’s car because he was standing in traffic and blocking Beiber’s car from entering traffic. There was another incidence where a freelancer was arrested in Ferguson because he was photographing photographers on an Interstate entrance or exit ramp.. Protesters should do it legally if they want to walk safely in traffic and on Interstates; get a permit to block traffic.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      The photographer was arrested in Milwaukee on the highway for a Ferguson protest. He was breaking the law and deserved what he got.

      A photographer was arrested in Ferguson, someone from Getty images, because he got in the way and didn’t listen to the police. It’s the same reason two journalists were arrested in Ferguson. When police tell you to move that’s not the time to try and negotiate with them.

      The day after the grand jury made their announcement not to indict Darren Wilson I was photographing some of the burned out buildings on West Florissant Road. Basically the street was blocked off but a couple of cops who didn’t know better let me go through. After about 10 minutes a Highway Patrol car pulled to where I was shooting and two cops quickly got out and ordered me to leave, stating that the whole street was a crime scene. I thanked them and left.

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    • robert garfinkle

      It just sounds like – referring to the article, that the police “felt” threatened by the photographers – unless I need to re-read the article…

      If a law is broken, sure – I have no issue with consequence. But, when a reaction / consequence is baseless AND tied to court resolution whose findings are a breach of rights – it clearly tells me that the incident should have never happened –

      the big problem with “mistakes” like these is most times, at a minimum there is no apology, and at most a lot of irreconcilable damage is done by authorities with no accountability / responsibility – breaking down trust…

      trust, law enforcement – are more like water / oil these days – personally, I do not fear the police, I actually trust them, not as a function of “not doing something wrong” but my core impression is that if encountered I usually never have a problem – and frankly, not as a resistive measure, I would respectfully ask the officer what the nature of the problem is…

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  6. Michael Burnham

    I have never had a problem with he LASD or the LAPD (as I live and shoot primarily in the city of LA most of my experience has been with the LAPD). Most of the LAPD officers seem to be pretty mellow about photographers so long as you are not breaking the law or getting in their way. After all, NO ONE appreciates having a camera shoved in their face.

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  7. Ben Perrin

    Kishore, I’m a bit worried about your fixation with these law enforcement issues. Did you have a bad experience or something? Your obsession with this topic just seems a bit unhealthy. Not judging, just an observation. If I’m wrong feel free to let me know.

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    • robert garfinkle

      for me – If I may, straight up… FEAR. the fear is losing a freedom, all of them.

      when 9/11 happened I was freaked out – and when the patriot act ( which is an oxymoron of a name… ) was enacted, for the first five minutes I was ok with it, as it’s intention was to provide safety and security… and it may still be slanted that way today… yet back then, after that 5 minutes was up, enough time to compose myself, I realized I was not prepared to give up what the patriot act asked me to give up, and that was my 4th amendment right – tethered with my due process rights…

      what the federal government did, was abandon our rights in trade for safety and security… sorry sir, wont trade my rights for for that… and more so, I will stand up and fight for those rights…

      that’s why I say – anything you put before the constitution and the bill of rights WILL be the second thing you lose – it is a fact…

      see, now we are in a position, just like those photographers, who did NOTHING wrong ( law or no law ) to be not only presumed guilty more or less but live under a shadow of suspicion, unreasonable suspicion, unwarranted fear that we will be treated like criminals based off of someone elses baseless fears entwined with power, and to be questioned about normal / peaceful human behaviors – that my friend is a form of terrorism in and of itself, not cast upon us by terrorists, but by our own government who has so much put more focus on us, as the threat, over the terrorists themselves… is this what you ( generally speaking ) subscribe to?

      I’d be willing to bet that the patriot act has done far more damage putting fear into people who just want to be themselves vs. the threat of terrorists wanting to take people’s lives – do the math…

      as a photographer, do you have more fear going out into the street afraid of getting busted for freedom of expression, or do you have more fear going out in the street afraid that you will be taken out by a terrorist.. seriously – I bet I know the answer to that question… and so do you…

      I will proudly stand up and defend your rights even in the midst of you willing to give up yours – that’s how much I love and believe in our country, for which it stands…

      our constitution is not the cause of our problems we have today…

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  8. Jeff McCrum

    It’s going to be a sad day when police stop harassing photographers, it’s been such a big payout for so many people.

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  9. robert garfinkle

    Don’t get me started – but I can’t help myself…

    1. Yippie – They won, excellent, it should have been a no brainer; frankly the incidents should have never happened, these photographers have an ABSOLUTE 100% right to do what they did. let freedom ring…

    2. No cop, should be a cop, unless they absolutely know the laws – no government officials or bodies of government should be able to circumvent our rights – our rights are there for a reason. As a slight “small” reminder, even in the midst of committing a crime, a perp, most likely guilty, STILL has due process – must be found guilty in a court of law, done, end of story…

    3. 9/11 was an absolute tragedy – we should be vigilant, yet respect the rights of citizens, if you can’t do both, fall to the side of honoring the constitution and bill of rights – that come’s first… find another way to protect without violations of rights… remember, terrorist acts we lose people; strip our rights, we lose the country – I say this still with all the compassion in the world for not wanting one soul to be harmed / killed – no one want’s it. Yet, it should be a reasonable request to not break down 322 million American’s observed rights in order to stave off a fictitious event that may never happen… There is a distinct difference between terrorist behavior and a nation of people living in freedom, read up on it…

    4. A camera is not a weapon

    5. We employ the government, they are our servants; function, to protect / preserve our rights – we do not employ them to take us hostage…

    6. The first and last line of defense, let alone our reason for being the nation of “we the people”, is the constitution and bill of rights – which includes our freedom of speech and the right to bear arms – which at the end of the day, if all else is lost, like our military / law enforcement, we can take to the streets to defend our nation (and you guys / gals can journalize it…) – we the people, should do whatever it takes, at all costs, to preserve a nearly 240 year old set of ideals and documents so that you can live your (our) passion…

    7. Anything we put before our constitution and bill of rights will be the second thing we lose… yes? see #6, #5, #4 etc…

    GOD bless America – our home, sweet home…

    Have a nice day

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    • robert s

      5-servants? they merely uphold the law and make sure there is order in society. but they are not servants imo.

      I pay taxes so “I own you” because you work for the govt and I pay for that as a citizen is your mindset?

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    • Travis Volkman

      #2. “No cop, should be a cop, unless they absolutely know the laws”…Except there is an entire judicial system in place because people cannot agree as to what exactly the law is. It isn’t as black and white as you may want it to be.

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    • robert garfinkle

      a cop should plainly know, that photographers are not criminals nor suspects, casing the joint etc… the court proved it, and they should have never had to go to court – why did someone interpret freedom of expression as suspicious behavior –

      fear alone does not translate to “beyond a reasonable doubt…”

      what I do translate as being equal – the fear that I will be arrested for freedom of expression is no different than the fear that a terrorist will take my life – fear is fear – what did we accomplish…

      this article has 9/11 tattooed on it, that’s why I make such references –

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Here’s something you might enjoy. A 20 year old girl arrested for JAYWALKING. It took FOUR cops to bring her in. If it wasn’t for someone photographing the incident and another shooting video with an iPhone this egregious story might not have come to light. Four big ol’ bully cops nearly breaking the arms of a girl who weighs about 110 pounds.

      The is all happening under Austin’s relatively new police chief. Coincidentally, an imported LA traffic cop.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_-8wPn-XZ8

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    • Graham Curran

      We definitely don’t employ the government to be our servants.

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    • robert garfinkle

      relating to #5 –

      We elect officials, they act as public servants – make laws, uphold the laws representing “our” interests – we have a choice (the freedom) to change it all, at our will, at any time. our judicial system is a check and balance against the laws for private citizens, public servants, and others who walk this country – federal and state.

      Please correct me if I am wrong – “we the people” are in charge, it’s our country to do what we wish – t’was / is our constitution…

      we are not “their” subjects, they do not rule us.

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  10. J. Dennis Thomas

    Usually the cops around here in Austin are pretty cool about photography.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      “We definitely don’t employ the government to be our servants.”

      The motto of most police forces is “To Protect and Serve”.

      I think you’re taking the “servant” part too literally.

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    • robert garfinkle

      they serve the public trust – we can change their role… we have the power to do that…

      if anything “servant” was out of context. but, just the same, we the people are empowered to decide.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      This was in response to someone’s statement below.

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  11. Vince Arredondo

    About time!

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  12. Kim Farrelly

    A good result so, would have worrying if it had not been challenged and defeated, for those who photograph in the USA anyway.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      Law enforcement response to photographers has so many variables. Some of it is the attitude of local LEO. In St. Louis I’ve never had a problem photographing a national monument, bridges, the Federal Reserve, Federal Courthouse, mass transit (MetroLink, our light rail system) and even law enforcement officers themselves.

      On the other hand I’ve read horror stories and have seen videos of photographers who were intimidated and abused by police in other cities. Unfortunately common sense with some LEO’s goes out the window with the so-called post 9/11 attitude. Chances are a terrorist isn’t going to be hanging around a building with a DSLR being obvious taking photos when it’s less obvious to do it with the camera on your phone or a hidden GoPro. LEO’s and building security also forget that most of this is already available on Google Earth, including angles you can’t get in person such as the top of buildings.

      But there needs to be some common sense from photographers also. Some of these guys aren’t photographers and are just trying to call attention to themselves so a LEO will approach them and hopefully a confrontation will occur so they can post it on YouTube. Those are the people who make it more difficult for real photographers to do what they do. I would also add that at the end of the day, the cop has the authority to arrest you and if you’re asked to move along, you’re going to be in a better situation doing so than trying to prove a point.

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