Police war on photographers reaches new highs

If you’ve seen any of those videos of the police treatment of Occupy protests, ranging from slugs in the face to pepper-spraying peaceful protesters and the severe brain injuries sustained by an ex-marine in Oakland, you can understand why cops hate cameras.

We’ve been documenting the war on photography for some time, but some of the latest attacks on folks with cameras have become absolutely outrageous, prompting at least one major lawsuit, which we report after the jump.

But first, word that the war has spread to You Tube:

From RT:

Google has been asked by a US law enforcement agency to remove several videos exposing police brutality from the video sharing service YouTube, the company has revealed in its latest update to an online transparency report. Another request filed by a different agency required Google to remove videos allegedly defaming law enforcement officials. The two requests were among 92 submissions for content removal by various authorities in the US filed between January and June 2011. Both were rejected by Google along with 27 per cent of the submissions. The IT giant says the overall number of requests for content removal it receives from governmental agencies has risen, and so has the number of requests to disclose the private data of Google users.

Police madness at Occupy Nashville

Perhaps the most outrageous arrest happened Friday night, when Tennessee Highway Patrol officers arrested a journalist for Nashville Scene during the another of those police raids on Occupy protests, then declared the reporter had been busted for public intoxication — an outright lie.

Then, to top it all off, the journalist and all the protesters arrested by the cops were set free by a jurist, who ruled the raid illegal.

First, this from Steven Hale of Nashville’s City Paper:

Tennessee state troopers just after midnight Friday arrested 26 people, including a Nashville Scene reporter, in an overnight “curfew enforcement” at Legislative Plaza.

It was the second straight night of arrests at the plaza, which has been the site of Occupy Nashville protests for four weeks.

Saturday morning, the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security announced that 72 troopers had “removed 26 protesters who refused to leave” the plaza after they were given 10 minutes to do so.

Not mentioned in the state’s release was that the 26 people arrested included a working member of the press, Scene reporter Jonathan Meador, who was apprehended while attempting to leave the plaza.

He was held despite being identified by himself and others as a journalist there to cover the protests.

State officials Friday said that Gov. Bill Haslam had approved the state’s new policy and its enforcement. He later publicly defended the policy to several media outlets and signaled that enforcement of the policy would continue.

In an email to Haslam’s office Saturday morning, SouthComm Inc. CEO Chris Ferrell said, “I expect the Governor to publicly apologize to him for this violation of his rights and to assure the people of Tennessee that this administration will not interfere with the right to a free press that has been a fundamental right in the country since our founding.”

Ferrell continued, “I’m sure you understand that every media outlet in this country will vigorously defend our right to cover government action without fear of arrest or reprisal.”

SouthComm publishes both the Nashville Scene and The City Paper.

After the arrests, the group was put on a bus and taken to the Davidson County Jail.

There, Metro Night Court Judge Tom Nelson — who was also on duty for Thursday morning’s arrests — again ordered the immediate release of those who had been arrested, denying troopers’ warrant requests and rejecting the legality of the state’s newly imposed curfew.

“I have reviewed the regulations of the state of Tennessee,” he said, before a room crowded with protesters and media, “and I can find no authority anywhere for anyone to authorize a curfew anywhere on Legislative Plaza.”

Read the rest.

Here’s a video of the arrest, captured by reporter Jonathan Meador as he was taken into custody.

More on the video from Jim Ridley of Nashville Scene:

The Tennessee state trooper who arrested Scene reporter Jonathan Meador last night on Legislative Plaza during the THP’s second late-night crackdown on the Occupy Nashville protests was kind enough to slip the small video flip-cam Meador was carrying back into his pocket. Thanks to him, Meador was able to produce this unedited video of his own arrest — or to be more accurate, the audio, since with troopers slamming Meador to the ground from behind and rendering him helpless, the image isn’t so hot.

No matter. The sound speaks volumes.

What you will hear, very clearly, is a trooper telling another officer to book Meador for resisting arrest. You will also hear, very clearly, audio evidence of Meador’s contention: that he was simply doing his job as a reporter and tried to get off the plaza to comply with the law — but the troopers wouldn’t let him off that easy.

What you will not hear, in any form or fashion, is the slightest mention of public intoxication — the specious charge against Meador the THP has broadcast to the world. If that charge was made up later to discredit Meador — or even more appallingly, to divert attention from what a Metro Night Court judge last night told officers was a blatantly unconstitutional overstepping of government and police authority — nobody who cares about their First Amendment freedoms should sleep in Tennessee tonight.

And again from Nashville Scene the full text of the letter sent by Chris Ferrell, CEO of SouthComm, the chain that owns both papers, to Alexia Poe, director of communications for Gov. Bill Haslam:


I learned this morning that one of my reporters at the Nashville Scene was arrested last night while covering the protests at Legislative Plaza despite identifying himself as a reporter. I expect the Governor to publicly apologize to him for this violation of his rights and to assure the people of Tennessee that this administration will not interfere with the right to a free press that has been a fundamental right in this country since our founding. I’m sure you understand that every media outlet in this country will vigorously defend our right to cover government action without fear of arrest or reprisal.

Chris Ferrell, CEO, SouthComm, Inc.

ACLU sues L.A. Sheriff over photographer harassment

Stirred to action by the heavy-handed tactics of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit, as they announce here:

The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) and the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP today sued the County of Los Angeles and individual Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies for detaining and searching photographers. The incidents of harassment occurred when photographers were taking pictures in public places where photography is not prohibited.

“Photography is not a crime. It’s protected First Amendment expression,” said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the ACLU/SC. “Sheriff’s deputies violate the Constitution’s core protections when they detain and search people who are doing nothing wrong. To single them out for such treatment while they’re pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong.”

The complaint is filed on behalf of three plaintiffs, who between them have been detained or ordered not to photograph by Sheriff’s deputies on at least six occasions. The complaint details similar incidents involving others, from amateur photographers to veteran photojournalists.

Plaintiff Greggory Moore, a reporter for the Long Beach Post, was on a public sidewalk taking pictures of passing drivers for a story on Distracted Driving Awareness month, when eight sheriffs deputies surrounded, frisked, and interrogated him, saying that because he was taking pictures across the street from the Long Beach courthouse, his behavior was suspicious. “I was surrounded by deputies and frisked blocks from my house, just for taking photographs in the middle of the day on a public sidewalk,” said Moore. When Moore and the National Press Photographers Association both pursued the incident, they were told that taking pictures of a courthouse was an indicator of potential terrorism, and that it would be appropriate for deputies to frisk a photographer as they approached him.

The other plaintiffs suffered similar experiences. LASD deputies detained and searched Shawn Nee for photographing turnstiles on the Los Angeles Metro, asking if he planned to sell the photos to al-Qaeda and threatening to put his name on the FBI’s “hit list.” On another occasion, deputies ordered Nee not to photograph on the sidewalk outside the W Hotel at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. LASD deputies detained and searched Shane Quentin, a photographer with an M.F.A. from UC Irvine, while he was photographing brilliantly lit refineries in south Los Angeles at night, frisking him and placing him in the back of a squad car for about forty-five minutes before releasing him. Over the past several years, many police departments have instituted “suspicious activity reporting” programs designed to train officers to report certain activities believed to have a potential link to terrorism. Many departments include photography among the activities that should be reported.

“Photographers in Los Angeles and nationwide are increasingly subject to harassment by police officers,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association. “Safety and security concerns should not be used as a pretext to chill free speech and expression or to impede the ability to gather news.”

“Detaining people just for taking pictures isn’t just unconstitutional, it’s a waste of resources,” said Bibring. “It doesn’t keep Los Angeles safe, and it keeps officers away from investigating crime.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. It asks that the court order the Sheriff’s Department to stop detaining people solely based on the fact that they are taking photographs as well as to stop ordering people not to take photographs in public areas where photography is not prohibited, and also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Richard Winton of the Los Angeles Times offers more details of one incident:

Thursday’s suit was filed on behalf of three photographers, who among them have been detained or ordered not to take pictures on at least six occasions.

Professional photographer Shawn Nee was detained and searched Oct. 31, 2009, for shooting images at the turnstiles of the Los Angeles subway system. Nee was shooting newly installed turnstiles at the Metro Red Line’s Hollywood and Western station when a deputy asked why he was taking pictures. Nee told the deputy he was not doing anything, the deputy warned him that photography was prohibited at the station because it is a terrorist target.

“Al Qaeda would love to buy your pictures, so I want to know if you are in cahoots with Al Qaeda to sell these pictures to them for terrorist purposes,” Deputy Richard Gylfie then reportedly told him.

The deputy grabbed Nee, pushed him against a wall, searched him and lectured him about terrorism, the lawsuit alleges. He also threatened to forward Nee’s name to counterterrorism so it could be added to an FBI “hit list”

The incident was captured on video. According to the suit, the deputy was not disciplined despite a complaint.

Read the rest.

And here’s the video:

The full text of the lawsuit is posted here.

H/T to Boy With Grenade [formerly discarted].


One response to “Police war on photographers reaches new highs

  1. hmm, different post by photographers . good work , it was good reading .

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