Update: The following article was published on Photography is Not a Crime on March 31, 2010 after an exclusive interview with Jonas Lara. At first, he was thrilled the article was published, but then he spoke to an attorney who insisted that the article, while accurate, could lead to his conviction. So Lara begged me to take the article down.
And that is something I hate doing. That, after all, goes against all journalism ethics and standards. But last thing I want to do is be blamed for getting a photographer convicted. In hindsight, I should have left the article up and I don’t think I will ever agree to remove an article again under similar circumstances.
Now, Lara has sent out a press release to various photography sites, so the story is out there and people are asking me whether I plan to report on it.
As a journalist, I feel that I got burned because I had the exclusive, then I removed it to try and do the guy a favor and next thing you know, he’s sending out press releases to the world.
Obviously, he is in a situation where he is thinking about his own legal dilemma rather than my journalistic scoop, which is understandable. But if I don’t maintain some journalistic pride in this site, then it would turn to crap.
So I’m not going to invest much more time in this story than I already have. But here is the update.
After spending almost four years in the United States Marine Corps, Jonas Lara has been trying to make a living as a photojournalist in Southern California.
That ended up getting him arrested and his camera confiscated on a baseless charge of felony vandalism.
Although that charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor, the public defender representing him comes across as either a complete buffoon or a deliberate antagonist.
“I spoke to several attorneys that I couldn’t afford and they all told me I needed to get my camera back, but when I told the public defender, he refused to do anything about it,” Lara said in a phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Tuesday night.
“He told me that it’s evidence against me and he can’t do anything about it.”
Furthermore, Lara has yet to see his arrest report. When he was released from the jail in the police station after spending 26 hours in a cell, the cops told him he would have to get that report from his attorney.
And when he asked public defender David Gottesmann to let him see the report, the attorney refused.
“He told me it contained ‘sensitive information’ about the victims.”
It all started on February 4 when Lara agreed to meet a couple of graffiti artists for a photo project he was working on.
The three men entered the yard of an abandoned building in a commercial area of South Central Los Angeles where the men began tagging the wall with Lara photographing them. It was nighttime and Lara was shooting without flash, using a Canon 5D Mark II at a high ISO.
At one point, a police helicopter flew overhead with a spotlight, so the three men hid. The helicopter came back minutes later and spotted them.
“It was hovering right over us so I freaked out, I laid down and the other two guys walked out of the yard,” he said.
Lara, who had never been arrested before, acknowledges that he wasn’t to keen on his rights as a photographer.
“I wasn’t sure if they would be allowed to look at my photos, so I pulled out the memory card and threw it into a bush and replaced it with a second one,” he said.
LAPD apparently has a lot of time on their hands because they spent 90 minutes searching the yard for evidence before finding the memory card. Lara believes they had them confused for shooting suspects in an unrelated incident.
The two graffiti artists were caught with bags of spray paint, so it’s not like police are lacking evidence for the vandalism charge against them.
It wasn’t until he was locked in a cell that he was told he was being charged with felony vandalism along with the other two. His bail was set at $20,000 and they refused to release him upon his own recognizance. His wife had to call a bails bondsman.
The court later reduced the felony charge to a misdemeanor. Now he is accused of damaging a fence.
“We didn’t damage any fence because the gate was open. We walked right into the yard,” he said.
He has a pretrial hearing scheduled for Friday. He obviously needs a new lawyer.