Tag Archive: police
Charges dropped against Photography Is Not a Crime blogger for posting police media relations number onlineDec 6, 2013 by M. Scott Brauer No Comments »
This is a local story for me since it involves the Boston Police Department. I’m happy to see a positive resolution, though disappointed that it the situation even arose. At its essence, a blogger was charged with witness intimidation and faced 10 years in prison for posting the publicly-available media relations phone number and email address for the Boston Police Department in a post about police harassment of a man taking video of police activity (video above).
Carlos Miller is the very active blogger behind the Photography Is Not a Crime site, which catalogs instances of photographers and videographers being arrested, detained, harassed, or otherwise interfered with by authorities while taking pictures or video. The blog is a valuable resource in the fight against increased limitations placed on visual media, especially regarding police activity. Miller frequently writes about intimidation and harassment of photographers by police, and entreats readers to write to police departments and lawmakers to fight against these injustices. We’ve covered laws preventing recording police activity before, in addition to other parts of the war on cameras.
In August 2013, Miller published a blog post about a video in which a Boston Police sergeant shoved and harassed a man taking video of police action on a public sidewalk. At the end of that post, Miller told readers to call the Boston Police Department and listed the Public Service Desk customer service number available on BPD’s own website. One reader did just that, recording a short conversation with Boston police spokeswoman Angelene Richardson, who found the recording online and filed a charge against Taylor Hardy for illegal wiretapping (Hardy maintains that permission was granted to record the call; the charge was later dropped). In a post discussing these wiretapping charges, Miller again asked readers to call a publicly available number to ask that charges be dropped. In a later post, Miller said he posted the number to “[allow] readers to contact them to show [BPD] we are paying attention.” After numerous readers called in about the charges, Boston Police Detective Nick Moore filed witness intimidation charges against Carlos Miller and threatened similar charges for anyone who called in.
Miller launched an indiegogo campaign to help with legal fees, ultimately raising $4300 to hire a lawyer. Readers continued to call in to the Boston Police Department, the lawyer mounted legal challenges to the charges, and the case started to draw some media attention. The Boston Police Department eventually folded and agreed to drop all charges against Miller and Hardy. You can read other summaries of the case by PBS and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Of particular note related to the BPD’s actions that started this whole chain of events, in 2011 a federal appeals court ruled against (pdf) Boston police arresting a man for using his cell phone to record police activity in public without permission. The court noted that “changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw.”
“Ackermann’s report said Stolarik had flashed his camera in Ackermann’s face several times as police told him to stop photographing a girl’s arrest. But according to the Times, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson’s office didn’t find any photographic evidence of a flash being used, nor did any witnesses corroborate Ackermann’s report.” -Cop Who Arrested Times Photographer Faces Seven Years in Prison, New York Magazine
The last time we wrote about New York City’s war on cameras, we showed a video of a police officer stopping frequent New York Times contributing photographer Robert Stolarik while he was taking pictures of arrests at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Stolarik is again at the center of a story in which police overstepped their bounds in preventing the operation of a free press. On Aug. 4, 2012, the photographer was taking pictures of the start of a streetfight in the Bronx.
According to the New York Times, police ordered Stolarik to stop taking pictures of an arrest, but he identified himself as a journalist and continued photographing the scene. One officer then grabbed his camera, he asked for badge numbers and names, and the police then took his cameras and forced Stolarik to the ground. The photographer was arrested. One police officer, Michael Ackerman, later claimed that Stolarik had deliberately used his flash camera’s flash in his face, interfering with the police officers’ duties and justifying an arrest. Yesterday, though, Ackerman was indicted on three felonies and five misdemeanors, alleging that Ackerman made up the events leading to the arrest. Evidence and witness testimony now make clear that Stolarik did not use a flash that night: his camera does not have a built in flash, his pictures from the event show no use of flash, and no witnesses report seeing bright lights. At the time of the arrest, Stolarik told New York Magazine that the charges were untrue.
The officer has been suspended without pay. Stolarik’s charges have been dismissed.
(via James Estrin on Facebook)
This week, Jennifer Pawluck, 20, was accused of criminal harassment and arrested after posting a photo (above) to Instagram. The photo shows a graffiti caricature of Montreal police Commander Ian Lafrenière, and was not painted by Pawluck. She photographed the graffiti on a building on March 26, posted it on Instagram, and was arrested at her home on April 3, nearly a week later. According to a CBC report, the police say that the reason for the arrest extends beyond just posting the photo to Instagram but give no further details. Pawluck says that she just wanted to show some well-done graffiti and did not mean for her actions to be threatening. She is scheduled to appear in court to face charges on April 17. Gawker has a bit more.
“Slowly but surely the courts are recognizing that recording on-duty police is a protected First Amendment activity. But in the meantime, police around the country continue to intimidate and arrest citizens for doing just that. So if you’re an aspiring cop watcher you must be uniquely prepared to deal with hostile cops.” -Gizmodo, 7 Rules for Recording Police
We’ve covered restrictions on photographers before, especially regarding coverage of police. Gizmodo’s recent article, 7 Rules for Recording Police, is an excellent collection of warnings, advice, and tactics, for photographers dealing with police confrontations. The tips all fall under the following headings:
- Know the Law (Wherever You Are)
- Don’t Secretly Record Police
- Respond to “Shit Cops Say”
- Don’t Share Your Video with Police
- Prepare to be Arrested
- Master Your Technology
- Don’t Point Your Camera Like a Gun
But more than these headings, the article offers practical advice about what do in particular situations. Under “Respond to ‘Shit Cops Say’,” they advise answering a police’s confrontational “What are you doing?” in a peaceful and information manner. Don’t escalate the matter by responding “I’m recording you to make sure you’re doing your job right” or ignoring the question. Instead, say something like “Officer, I’m not interfering. I’m asserting my First Amendment rights. You’re being documented and recorded offsite.” Of course, all of this is well and good when you’re reading the article at your computer; in the heat of the moment, you can expect things to get ugly and for your rights to be violated. The guide covers that, too. It offers tips for using a smartphone to simultaneously archive images and video online or what to do when you get detained.
Well worth a read!
Photographers watch out! You could be arrested for recording police activity at Chicago NATO events (UPDATED)May 2, 2012 by M. Scott Brauer 4 Comments »
UPDATE (7 May 2012): Thanks to Kyle Hillman for writing in with news that the city of Chicago has announced that they will not enforce these eavesdropping laws during demonstrations at NATO events this month. In March of this year, too, a judge ruled that the law barring recording police activity was unconstitutional. Hopefully this law is not long for the world…
Original post: If you’re planning to cover the NATO events in Chicago in a couple of weeks, you need to be aware of Illinois laws regarding police activity (the main G8 meeting was moved to Camp David, but the NATO Summit will continue as planned). We’ve covered this issue before, but it bears repeating. Under Illinois eavesdropping laws, a number of people have been arrested and prosecuted for recording audio (some in the course of recording video) of police activity. While Massachusetts does not prosecute people for openly recording police activity, Illinois has gone after individuals for both secret and opening recording of police duties. A proposed law in Illinois, HB3944, “exempts from an eavesdropping violation the recording of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear.” There’s a strong argument to be made that even secret recording of police activity is vital to the public interest in fighting police abuse and corruption; it’s a frightening prospect when police work to undermine the public’s protection against their power. But, in the meantime, it remains illegal in Illinois to record audio of police in the state. If you’re planning to capture video or audio at the upcoming Chicago events, be very careful.
While we’re at it (and thinking of a photographer friends’ experiences in Seattle covering Occupy protests yesterday), get acquainted with your rights as a photographer and journalist. Time Lightbox recently published a handy list of links, many of which will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog:
- The National Press Photographers Association’s Advocacy homepage
- The ACLU’s Know Your Rights Photographers page (they helped make the ridiculous and informative video above)
- Attorney Bert P. Krages’ Photographers’ Rights Pamphlet
- Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not a Crime blog (which just celebrated its 5-year anniversary; I’d wish another 5 years of success to Miller’s blog if it didn’t mean 5 more years of abuse of photographers…)
Stay safe out there. None of these resources will protect you when the police or anyone else is hitting you or destroying your gear.
Skip to about 1:45 in the video above to see police obstructing New York Times freelancer Robert Stolarik from taking pictures. It’s the latest demonstration of the NYPD’s general strategy of impeding the freedom of the press to cover Occupy Wall Street as it unfolds. We’ve written about states making it illegal to photograph or take video of police previously. But what we’ve seen in New York recently is a concerted effort to prevent the press from taking pictures or video of the protests and police conduct. Journalists have been arrested on a few occasions; here’s a personal account from Vanity Fair photographer Justin Bishop about his arrest. After the Stolarik incident above, which happened earlier this week, New York Times lawyer George Freeman sent a stern email to Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Brown, expressing the paper’s “disappointment” with the way Stolarik was treated. Here’s the full text of an earlier, similar letter, signed by a coalition of media honchos. In a discussion with Capital New York, Freeman described the email to the NYPD:
“We are disappointed that the result and first step of our recent meeting with Com. Kelly, the directive he issued reiterating that the police are not supposed to be interfering with the media’s doing their jobs and covering newsworthy events, has apparently not been followed or implemented on the ground. The World Financial Center video indisputably shows an officer bobbing and weaving for no other purpose than to block a Times freelancer’s ability to photograph police actions.” -NYT lawyer George Freeman, speaking with Capital New York
This isn’t the first volley between media and the NYPD and Bloomberg administration. Letters have been sent to the authorities before; various organizations have helped pressure the NYPD and other authorities, as well. Though this is not without some effect&em;in late November, NY Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued a memo for all police instructing them not to interfere with the media&em;the Stolarik video shows that police continue to obstruct the press with impunity.
The NYPD have also said that the best way for reporters to avoid arrest is to carry a press card issued by the NYPD (though later recanted that statement). Wired’s Threat Level blog dug into the process of getting a press card and found something straight from Orwell. “We aren’t issuing press credentials to reporters covering Occupy Wall Street,” Detective Gina Sarubbi, NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, told Wired. And NYPD spokesman Stu Loeser admitted that arresting credentialed journalists covering Occupy Wall Street was justified. Photographer CS Muncy says that wearing an NYPD press card is akin to wearing an “arrest me” sign at the Occupy demonstrations. The Village Voice has more general coverage of the issue.
The limitations placed on photographers are limited to Occupy Wall Street, New York City, or even the US. The Committee to Protect Journalists chronicles journalists killed and detained each year around the globe. Here’s the list of journalists killed so far in 2011.
The ACLU recently sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in a federal suit, “alleging that the Sheriff’s Department and deputies ‘have repeatedly’ subjected photographers ‘to detention, search and interrogation simply because they took pictures’ from public streets of places such as Metro turnstiles, oil refineries or near a Long Beach courthouse.” American Journalism Review has further coverage of “the rising tension between news photographers and law enforcement officials” around the US.
And for a moment of levity, watch first half of the following Stephen Colbert clip in which is berates the Wisconsin state government for allowing guns in the state capitol building, but not cameras:
The Colbert Report – Stephen Colbert reminds us that while guns are now allowed in the Wisconsin capitol building, cameras are not
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,Video Archive
“Thank God! Cameras are dangerous. With no waiting period or background check any wack-job could just stroll into a Wal-Mart and walk out with a semi-automatic [camera]. Now for years I’ve been pressing for stricter regulations on cameras, especially around our elected officials. To many political lives have been cut short by some crazed [photo] shooter.” -Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report
Colbert’s funny, but the issues are real. We’ve linked to Carlos Miller’s Photography is Not a Crime blog in the past, but it’s worth looking at again. Here are some recent posts: Virginia Man Arrested For Recording Cops Plans Lawsuit, Blogger Must Act Like Journalist To Be Treated Like One, Man Arrested After Photographing Executive Office Building In D.C., Nashville Police Arrest Journalist Covering Protest, Former WV Senator Ordered To Delete Photos In Pittsburgh Mall, Iowa Man Convicted In Videotaping Case Needs To File Appeal, Occupy Cincinnati Activist Arrested After Photographing “Covert” Cop Car, Occupy Calgary Activist Threatens To Sue Videographer For Recording Him, and Chicago Police Delete Journalism Professor’s Video Footage Of Arrest. Sadly, Miller’s blog is never left wanting for new content.
And in the UK, there’s a particularly laughable sign that’s been erected outside the Aldwych tube station (part of the London Underground system), banning DSLR cameras. Tim Allen found the sign and posted it to a twitter picture service. The sign reads “Due to their combination of high-quality sensor and high resolution, digital SLR cameras are unfortunately not permitted inside the station.” Amateur Photographer has a bit more information, and a follow-up as officials try to justify the ban. The British Journal of Photography has continued pressure on Transport for London, including a Freedom of Information request to get all government information relating to the ban.
Still in the UK, if you haven’t seen it before, Stand Your Ground is worth a watch. A group of photographers set out on the streets of London to exercise their right to photograph that which is in public view. They were interrupted in a variety of ways by representatives of private property, but received support from London police. It’s a great video.
As always, know your rights as a photographer. There are two good online summaries for US photographers, one by Bert P. Krages, an attorney who works on photo-related issues, and another by the ACLU. If anyone knows of similar resources for photographers from other countries, please send them along or post them in the comments below.
Miami police point gun at videographer, smash cellphone; man saves video by hiding SD card in his mouthJun 7, 2011 by M. Scott Brauer 1 Comment »
“Benoit, who was with his girlfriend, Ericka Davis, said police pulled him out of the car, put him face down on the pavement, guns pointed at the couples’ heads, handcuffed him, and smashed his cell phone. Then they put the smashed phone in his back pocket as he lay on the ground.
But Benoit had saved the video to his phone’s SIM card and hid the card in his mouth before the phone was smashed.” -At Gunpoint, Miami Police Threaten Videographer At Fatal Shooting, NPPA
We’ve covered states prosecuting people who’ve made video recordings of police activity before. In a new case from last week, a man used his cell phone to record video of the scene of a fatal shooting in Miami. Police officers forced him back into his car. In the latter half of the video above, a police officer can be seen pointing a gun at the man with the video camera. The man with the cell phone camera, Narces Benoit, alleges that police then forcibly removed him and his girlfriend, handcuffed them on the ground, and smashed his phone. Benoit saved the video by concealing the memory card from his camera in his mouth. The NPPA has more details, including link to recent abuse of power by police in Fort Lauderdale to restrict photography of a movie set.
Now is a good reminder to print out a copy of The Photographer’s Right.
Antonio Bolfo‘s got a couple of interesting projects under his sleeves. Despite getting raked over the coals by his writer for a Newsweek piece, his work covering the ongoing cholera epidemic in Haiti offers a telling view into the current situation. I thought I recognized the name under those pictures, and it turns out he’s the photographer behind the excellent NYPD Impact story that I saw a few months ago on the Reportage by Getty site. There’s more on his personal site and a good interview with him on the Photoletariat.
The Freeman has an interesting look into various states’ efforts to make illegal the recording of police activity. In Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland, wiretapping and eavesdropping laws have been used to prosecute individuals who have recorded police activity in a public location.
“[In three states] it is now illegal to record an on-duty police officer even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists.” -Are Cameras the New Guns?
In one example case, motorcyclist Anthony John Graber III was stopped for reckless driving. A plain-clothes police officer stopped him, jumped out of his car waving a gun and screaming, and issued a ticket. Graber had a video camera mounted in his motorcycle helmet; he posted video of the encounter to youtube. Ten days after the police encounter, after police found the video on youtube, Graber was arrested and charged under felony wiretapping laws, which could result in up to 5 years jail time. In December 2009, street artist Christopher Drew found himself in a similar situation in Chicago. Drew was arrested while selling art on the streets of Chicago as a test of the cities anti-peddler law. During the arrest, police officers found a small audio recorder that was recording and charged Drew under felony wiretapping laws; Drew faces 4-15 years in prison. As the Freeman reports, not everyone in the legal realm agrees with these policies: Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall dissented to a 2001 ruling upholding charges stemming from recording police activity, “Citizens have a particularly important role to play when the official conduct at issue is that of the police. Their role cannot be performed if citizens must fear criminal reprisals….”
For further reading, keep up with Carlos Miller’s Photography is Not a Crime blog. Since his own arrest in 2007 for photographing Miami police (he was acquitted of all charges), Miller has been chronicling cases of First Amendment violations, many of which involve photographers arrested for taking pictures in public places. And take a look at the excellent Photographer’s Rights pamphlet for US photographers.
UPDATE: In 2010, charges against Anthony John Graber III were dismissed by a Maryland judge. The ruling “makes it clear that police officers enjoy little expectation of privacy as they perform their duties” and helps narrow the definition of wiretapping in the state’s laws. In the decision, the judge wrote that the situation “took place on a public highway in full view of the public. Under such circumstances, I cannot, by any stretch, conclude that the troopers had any reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversation with the defendant which society would be prepared to recognize as reasonable.”
Jonas Lara had been fighting the Los Angeles court system for the better part of this year when he learned that his charges were dropped. PDNPulse reports that Lara was arrested while working on a long-term documentary essay about graffiti writers and charged with trespassing, vandalism, and the destruction of a fence at the location. It’s very similar to Ethan Welty’s case, which we recently wrote about. After appealing to the ACLU, who turned down the case, Lara appealed to friends, family, and colleagues to set up a legal fund so he could fight the bogus charges. Armed with this legal fund, Lara hired a lawyer who hit the ground running with legal challenges to the prosecution’s case. Key evidence had gone missing, and the charges were lessened. Then, after talks with the property owner, Lara agreed to pay a $200 restitution to compensate the property owner for money spent on the cleanup, other charges were dropped, and the judge ordered the Los Angeles Police Department to return Lara’s gear. Crucial to the case, apparently, were letters from Lara’s colleagues affirming his work as a journalist and evidence such as IRS business registration showing that he is a working photojournalist.
I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more cases like this as staff jobs disappear and news organizations shrink. The news will still be gathered, but at much more considerable risk to journalists. Without the institutional and financial support a newspaper, freelancers are stuck out in the cold when legal problems arise. As seen in this case, legal fees can be daunting and criminal charges are frightening; were it not for donations and support from friends, family, and colleagues, the photographer likely would have been unable to fight the bogus charges and escape jail time or get his gear back.