When Julian Heicklen comes to town to conduct his courthouse activism, you better prepare yourself for arrest.
At least if you decide to videotape it.
Just ask Antonio Musumeci or George Donnelly, who were arrested in separate incidents while videotaping Heicklen passing out literature on jury nullification in front of federal courthouses in New York City and in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
On Wednesday, Heicklen, who lives in New Jersey, was in downtown Miami passing out literature in front of the federal courthouses as well as Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson Campus.
He was with James Cox of the Florida Fully Informed Jury Association, who had driven down with Heicklen from Orlando. Local activist Travis Kimmel met up with them and shot his own video of our altercation, which can be viewed here and here.
By the time I joined the trio in downtown Miami a little after 1 p.m., they had already been harassed and threatened with arrest for passing out literature on the college campus. The cops were called and informed them that they had the right to do what they were doing.
I did a quick interview with Heicklen on my Canon TX1, which normally is an awesome camera but ever since that incident with the Metrorail security guard who knocked it out of my hand before pocketing it, it has a tendency to stop recording in less than a minute, requiring me to constantly restart the camera and the interview.
On some days it’s worse than others. Sometimes it works flawlessly. On Wednesday, it was really acting up. The image quality also seems to have been affected by the blow. That’s part of the pending claim I have against 50 State Security, so hopefully I will be reimbursed for the damaged camera.
So after I finished my interview with Heicklen (video at the end of article) and we decided to walk from the campus to the courthouse, I wasn’t really trusting the Canon TX1 to document our encounter with the authority figures we were about to confront.
I had to rely instead on my iPhone video camera, which works in a pinch, but has nowhere near the image stabilization and lighting/audio quality as the TX1. That’s my full disclosure as to why the above video is so shaky.
Anyway, it didn’t take long for a courthouse marshal to yell at me for taking pictures. I had the iPhone in my pocket when I snapped a couple of photos of the courthouse building.
I then pulled out the iPhone and approached him, asking him to repeat himself or at least to explain exactly what law I was violating.
The man scurried inside his guard shack and called his supervisor, who responded in seconds and who tried his best to remedy the situation without admitting that the initial marshal was wrong.
The supervisor first told me I wasn’t on a public sidewalk, then he insinuated I was on a public sidewalk, but I was not allowed on the stairs leading to the courthouse, then he finally admitted he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.
But he was at least respectful and professional, so we parted ways in a amiable manner.
Then we walked down the street to another federal courthouse where a federal security guard told me I was not allowed to record on federal property, although he said I could record all I want from the sidewalk just outside the courthouse.
But it’s not illegal to videotape on federal property. That was confirmed two months ago in a settlement stemming from Musumeci’s arrest.
Nevertheless, this particular guard was unaware of that settlement because he asked me to provide him with a printed copy, which I did not have. Cox, in fact, did have a copy of it, but I was unaware of that at the time.
Either way, the guard called Homeland Security police officers who responded to the scene in seconds and confirmed that I did have the right to record on federal property.
So again, we departed amiably and it truly appears we are making progress on the issue of public photography.
Even the guard who was not aware of the settlement told me I was allowed to videotape from the sidewalk, which would have been unheard of a year ago when most officials believed photographing a federal building from a public sidewalk was the equivalent of flying a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center.