June 8th, 2009

Washington woman handcuffed for photography wins settlement 0

By Carlos Miller


A 55-year-old woman who was frisked, handcuffed and detained after photographing some power lines for an academic project won an $8,000 settlement.

Shirley Scheier, a University of Washington art professor, had snapped the photos near the Bonneville Power Administration in Snohomish, Washington in Oct. 2005.

She was pulled over by three officers who told her they were investigating her for “suspicious behavior.”

Even though she showed them her university identification and explained what she was doing, police ordered her to step out of the car where they frisked her.

Then they handcuffed her and placed her in the back of a squad car while they searched her car.

She was released 45 minutes later.

The ACLU, who assisted in the case, announced the settlement earlier today.

The settlement came after the U.S. District Court in Seattle last year found that officers “lacked a reasonable justification for their aggressive tactics in completely restraining Scheier’s personal liberty.” Scheier’s experience highlights a pattern of law enforcement officers harassing people engaged in taking pictures in public.

“Taking photographs of objects or people in plain view is not a crime. Police should not presume that it is a suspicious act, and should not overreact by detaining people for taking pictures,” said ACLU-WA Legal Director Sarah Dunne.

Washington attorney Venkat Balasubramani, one of the three attorneys who represented Scheier on behalf of the ACLU, stated the following:

The court’s summary judgment order recognizes that photography is not inherently suspicious activity, and photographers have the right to take photographs from public locations.  The court’s ruling also makes clear that that generalized suspicions of terrorist activity do not trump constitutionally required standards for the detention and arrest of citizens, including photographers.

Read the court order here.


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