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DC photographer detained twice in four months for taking pictures of cops

Jerome Vorus, a 19-year-old man living in Washington DC, is the latest photographer to prove that cops either do not know the law regarding photography or just choose to make it up as they go along in the hopes the photographer will be clueless.

Fortunately, Vorus is far from clueless.

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Jerome Vorus, a 19-year-old man living in Washington DC, is the latest photographer to prove that cops either do not know the law regarding photography or just choose to make it up as they go along in the hopes the photographer will be clueless.

Fortunately, Vorus is far from clueless.

In the last four months, he’s been detained twice for taking pictures of cops.

Jerome Vorus

In the first incident last March, he was actually tackled by an officer who supposedly was later disciplined.

You can hear that incident in the audio recording he made that demonstrates that although he is an aspiring pilot, he would make one hell of a lawyer.

The assault takes place in the first clip. The second clip captures the aftermath, including a moment when a cop tells Vorus he needs to “stop hiding behind the Constitution.”

In the latest incident earlier this month – which was covered by NBC Washington and might be covered by The Washington Post –  he came across a few cop cars making a traffic stop and snapped a few photos.

A male cop demanded to know what he was doing. He asked if he was being detained. The cop hemmed and hawed and told him no, he was not being detained. That he was free to go.

“As I was walking away, two other units pulled up,” he said in a phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.

A female officer then stepped out and demanded his identification. He asked again if he was being detained. He also started recording the conversation.

“I notified her that I was only required to provide her with ID if I was suspected of a crime,” he said.

“She said, ‘yes, you’re being detained.’ I said, ‘now that we’ve established I’m being detained, here is my ID,’.”

The officer, who was under the impression that it was illegal to photograph police in public, then checked to see if he had any warrants against him. She also said it was illegal for him to audio record her, which he was doing openly.

Neither is illegal in Washington DC.

Meanwhile, the first cop was telling him that he was free to leave. Both officers were of equal rank.

Vorus asked for a supervisor, which only complicated matters.

“A sergeant arrived and told me I could not take pictures without permission,” he said.

A friend of his then arrived at the scene and tried correcting the officers by informing them that he, in fact, did not need permission to take their photos.

“Then they started asking for her ID,” he said.

But she knew better than to provide her identification.

He was eventually released after almost 30 minutes.

A few days later, Vorus spoke to a Sgt. Mercer at the police department to file a complaint.

“He said those officers were incorrect and that anyone can take pictures on public property,” he said. “He also told me he would speak to the officers to get their side of the story.

“It was Tuesday and he told me to call him back on Wednesday.”

Vorus called back on Thursday and surprise, surprise, the sergeant was no longer so cooperative.

“He now had an attitude. He said the officers told him I was taking pictures of inside the police cars. I told him all the pictures I took are posted on my blog.”

Not that it should have made a difference. As long as he is not physically entering the police cars, he has every right to photograph whatever can be seen from the outside. If the cops don’t like it, let them tint their windows.

The First Incident

Vorus was hoping to take photos of airplanes at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va.

It was March 1st and Vorus contacted the airport’s media relations department to inquire about its photo policy. He spoke to a Tara Hamilton.

We talked about me taking photos at the airport check-in kiosk for the airlines since that was private property leased by the airport, she notified me that I would need to ask their station managers. She also told me that she would notify TSA and Airport Police of my presence.

It wasn’t long before he was approached by Transportation Security Administration officials inquiring about his photography. The first two times, the TSA officials were in uniform. He told them he had permission and they did not push the matter further.

But then he was approached by two men in suits who told him he was not allowed to photograph “TSA checkpoints or TSA personnel.”

“They said they were in law enforcement. I asked them to show me a badge,” he said.

One of the men told him, “we ain’t going to show you shit.”

They eventually pulled out Homeland Security credentials.

Vorus began recording the conversation. He then snapped some photos of the men.

Then he walked away after being informed he wasn’t being detained.

But then one of the Homeland Security officers beckoned a uniformed Metropolitan Washington Airport Police officer who was on a bicycle, telling him him that Vorus was being “combative.”

In cop talk, combative is anytime you question their authority. It’s the equivalent of contempt of cop. The only difference is, the word “combative” written on a police report gives them the justification of beating your head in.

So Vorus got into a discussion with the police officer, whose name turned out to be Corporal King.

I asked him “was I being detained” after 2 minutes of his hostility, and he did not respond. I then asked a couple more times. He stated no, I then asked him was I free to leave he also said no, I then followed up with well then I am being detained.  He asked me for identification. I asked one more time was I being detained. NOTE: “By this point I am extremely frustrated. I was verbally abused by two TSA employees and accosted by an Airport Police Officer.”  Officer King stated that if I did not provide proper Identification, I would need to leave the airport. I decided at this point I would depart from the airport.

As he was walking away, Vorus turned around and snapped a photo of King and another officer who had joined him.

This caused King to become combative, to say the least.

I was told by other officers that I was being detained as a suspicious person. When it was confirmed that I had been detained, relinquished a VA Driver License. I then was told that I would be taken to jail at least for disorderly conduct.

Officers came, examined the images that were stored on my camera’s memory card. I was told to delete the images of TSA personnel and airport personnel. I was released twenty minutes later. I was told that I was being detained for suspicious behavior, but I was never searched.

When I took a picture of Officer King he jumped off of his bicycle and said “your ass ain’t gonna take a picture of me” and tackled me.  I yelled “ that is assault, get off of me”. He grabbed the camera that was around my neck and walked away. The female officer yelled and motioned for me to sit on stairs that were to our left, two more officers came and yelled for me to sit down. One officer had a M-4 assault rifle.

The cops ended up deleting his images, which he was unable to recover, before sending him on his way.

He ended up filing a complaint against King and learned that the officer had “violated departmental policy” and “appropriate action has been taken” but wasn’t told any details, which probably means King was simply told not to tackle anybody when it was obvious he was being recorded.


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