Update: I talked to Scott Conover Wednesday morning and he said they delayed his court appearance to Sept. 3rd, which sounds familiar because they kept doing the same thing in my case. (I was arrested last year for photographing cops against their wishes). In my case, I took it as a sign that they were hoping the delay would cause the media interest to die down.
After arresting Scott Conover for “unlawful photography” in Mountain City, Tennessee last June, Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputy Starling McCloud threatened to arrest Conover’s 12-year-old daughter with the same charge after she snapped two photos of her father getting handcuffed.
As it turns out, she is a better photographer than her father because she actually managed to photograph the camera shy deputy.
The fact that she snapped the photos knowing it could get her arrested proves she is a chip off the old block. Her father, after all, is a rabble-rouser who has been a thorn in the side of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office since moving to Tennessee from Key Largo five years ago.
But what else can we expect from a man born and raised in Miami in a hospital down the street from where I grew up?
“They don’t like us Florida guys because we fight back when we get picked on,” Conover said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Conover, who was charged with unlawful photography, pointing a laser at an officer and disorderly conduct, will be in court Wednesday to answer to the charges.
It won’t be the first time he’s faced off against the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in court.
“A couple of years ago, we had problems with the sheriff, so we sued them and settled out of court for an undisclosed sum,” he said.
But the problems started even before that, after he witnessed deputies beating a man in front of the restaurant/bar he owns.
“They beat the shit out of him,” he said. “The guy’s lawyer came back and took witness statements. When the statements made it back to the sheriff’s department, they came by and asked me why I was getting involved.”
Not long after that, deputies started staking out his business, Jammers Rocking Road House, which he said is modeled after the Tiki Bar in Key Largo.
“They were wolf-packing my customers,” he said. “They would lie and wait for them to leave and then pull them over to see if they had been drinking.”
Conover struck back by suing them.
Since then, Conover purchased another bar called the Last Chance Saloon about ten miles from his other bar in Northeastern Tennessee.
On the night of his arrest, Conover and his family had left the Last Chance Saloon after picking up the nightly earnings and were on their way back to Jammers. His wife was sitting in the passenger’s seat. His son and daughter were in the back seat.
Up ahead were a group of customers who had just left the bar. A Johnson County Sheriff’s deputy, who was parked along side of the road, pulled over the car with the customers.
“The lady who was driving doesn’t drink,” he said. “Her husband, who does drink, was sitting in the passenger’s seat.”
Conover pulled up to the scene and stopped his Hummer in front of the traffic stop. He asked his son for his IPhone, then rolled the window down and said:
“Hey fellas, I’m just getting your picture.”
Then he snapped the photo. Deputy McCloud – who has been on the force only 18 months – told him that photographing him was illegal.
“I asked, ‘what planet are you from?’,” Conover said.
McCloud started threatening to arrest him if he did not delete the photo, which as it turned out, did not even capture the deputy.
Conover’s wife even asked her husband to just hand the deputy the IPhone, but he refused. The deputy kept threatening him with arrest if he didn’t delete the photo.
The deputy then ordered Conover out of his car.
“I threw the phone back to my daughter and told her to keep taking photos.”
By then, two Mountain City police officers had pulled up to the scene, including Kenneth Lane and Ben May, who is in the dark uniform in the above photos. McCloud placed two sets of handcuffs on Conover, who is six-feet tall and weighs 270 pounds, and apparently looked as if he could break out of a single pair of handcuffs.
Conover’s daughter snapped two photos before McCloud threatened her with arrest.
“He started trying to get in my Hummer and get to the back seat where my kids were. I told him, ‘You better not go back there or else we’re going to have some real problems’,” he said.
McCloud decided against arresting the daughter.
At the jail, Conover asked McCloud if had ever heard of the First Amendment.
“He then turned to me and said, ‘I’m charging you with disorderly conduct’.”
Thirty minutes later, after McCloud had left the jail – and had time to think of what other charges he could come up with – he called the jailer and added another charge against Conover; pointing a laser at an officer.
The problem is, the IPhone does not even emit a laser. A local TV station even aired a segment where they proved the phone did not emit a laser, Conover said.
And as I’ve mentioned on this site many times, disorderly conduct is a charge that police use when they can’t think of an actual crime committed.
And the unlawful photography charge? Anybody with any common sense can read the law and realize it should have been thrown out weeks ago.
The bottom line is, Starling tried to intimidate a citizen into deleting a photo without any legal backing whatsoever. But he chose the wrong citizen.
A Miami native.
Check out this excellent legal analysis of the arrest from a Tennessee blogger (with a law degree from Notre Dame who is certified to practice law in Colorado).