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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Virginia Woman Escorted Out Of Public Meeting For Taking Photo

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In another case of public officials not wanting citizens to document their public meetings, a Virginia woman was escorted out the Loudoun County Board of Equalization meeting Tuesday evening after she snapped a photo of two board members conducting official business.

Beverly Bradford, who freelances for a local news site but was not on assignment, was ordered by BOE Chairman Scott Littner to either “turn over or delete the image,” according to the Ashburn Patch.

Bradford refused, stating that she had the right to document the meeting under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

That was when a sheriff’s deputy arrived.

Bradford said she attempted to hand over her equipment and purse to the deputy at which point she was asked to step outside to discuss the matter further. She first objected, stating she needed to hear the meeting. However, she relented, feeling she had little choice. Bradford described an intimidating scene with her sitting while BOE Chairman Scott Littner and the deputy stood over her and interrogated her.

The deputy at least had enough sense to inform Littner that he did not have the authority to make her delete the image, but he escorted her from the room anyway.

Bradford was told she needed advance permission to record the meeting, which contradicts state law, according to the Ashburn Patch.

Nevertheless, she had informed a county official earlier that morning that she planned to cover the meeting.

The Board of Equalization is a public body that reviews property assessments.

The BOE’s own administrative procedures grant residents the right to photograph or record meetings: “Any person seeking to photograph, film, record, or otherwise reproduce a portion of a BOE meeting required to be open may do so, as long as the placement of the equipment does not interfere with the meeting,” the procedures read.

However, the bylaws go on to say “The BOE must be notified prior to the commencement of photographing, filming recording or other reproduction of any portion of a meeting.”

Those bylaws seem to overstep state law. The Board of Equalization qualifies as a public body subject to the rules Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, according a 1984 opinion from the Virginia Attorney General as well as a document on the state’s FOIA Advisory Council website.

Referencing those opinions, Alan Gernhardt, an attorney with the FOIA Advisory Council, said his reading is that the BOE cannot escape the FOIA rules for public bodies. “They’re a public body,” he said.

 

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Activist Arrested For Videotaping Inside New Hampshire Courthouse

Court officials in New Hampshire first claimed it was a federal violation to videotape them inside the city courthouse.

But they could only come up with a measly disorderly conduct charge when they arrested an activist Tuesday who continued to videotape them against their wishes.

The arrest is part of the ongoing drama between a group of activists who call themselves the Free State Project and local authorities in Keene, a city of just over 23,000.

The goal of the Free State Project is to double Keene's population by bringing in more than 20,000 libertarian-leaning people and therefore turning New Hampshire into a libertarian stronghold.

The activists spend a great deal of time testing out the system and being a thorn in the side to Judge Edward Burke.

The latest incident began Tuesday morning when Burke had Adam “Ademo Freeman” Mueller arrested for “improper influence,” a felony, after Mueller was apparently questioning him about the arrest of another activist for failing to remove his hat in court.

You may remember Mueller as part of Liberty on Tour who got a first-hand taste of overbearing Metrorail security guards during his visit to Miami last October.

He was also arrested for contempt of court in Keene earlier this year.

So after he was arrested on Tuesday, activists Jason Repsher and Derrick Horton visited the Keene District Courthouse to inquire about his arrest.

Repsher entered first with the camera and was told he was committing a federal crime by continuing to videotape the public officials against their will.

It is actually legal to videotape inside the courtrooms in New Hampshire and there doesn't appear to be a law stating that it is illegal to videotape outside the courtrooms.

But the man, who appeared to be a bailiff because of a badge on his chest, gave him two minutes to shut it off.

Horton then apparently grabbed the same camera and continued videotaping, inquiring which is the policy that forbids him from doing so.

The bailiff pointed to something posted on a wall but before Horton could videotape it, he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and released that same afternoon.

So much for that federal violation.

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Apple Patent Would Give Third-Parties Power To Disable Your iPhone Camera

Apple might be developing technology that would allow third-parties to disable the camera on your iPhone, rendering it useless to shoot video or take photos.

The patent, which was filed in December 2009 but became public this month in various news reports, states that it would be designed to prevent people from recording shaky, low-quality videos of live bands that annoyingly either begin or cut-off in mid-song and usually consists of the back of somebody’s head obscuring the stage.

After all, we all know those videos are much more interesting than the clear, crisp professionally made videos produced by the bands themselves that can be found just as quickly on Youtube.

But critics across the internet have pointed out that this technology would likely end up in the hands of police who would use it to disable your camera to allow them to continue trampling all over your Constitutional rights without any documenting evidence.

And that’s not hard to believe considering the number of stories that have kept this blog alive more than four years.

And just last week, the hacker group LulzSec uncovered documentation from the Arizona State Police that further confirms what we already know. That police fear cameras and recording devices almost as much as they do guns.

Especially those pesky iPhones.

A document labeled "iphone apps- used against officers.doc" front-line officers encourages officers making an arrest to search for iPhones or other smartphones and look specifically to see what apps are running on them.

Specifically the document warns that an app called Cop Recorder can be activated while the phone is in a suspect's pocket to record what happens during an arrest, then upload the audio to a network server beyond the officer's reach

The contract on my iPhone 3Gs is set to expire in September and I was considering upgrading to the iPhone 5, which is supposed to be released around that time.

But I will probably weigh my options to see what other smart phones are available that will not be rendered useless under this new technology.

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Maybe This Is Why Cops Don't Want Us To Take Photos

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Not only does this Seattle police car appear to be parked more than 12 inches from the curb, its officers carelessly left this AR-15 rifle sitting on the trunk of the car while they ate donuts or drank gourmet coffee or whatever it is Seattle cops do when they are not abusing citizens.

A camera-carrying citizen snapped a photo, then flagged down a couple of bike-riding Seattle cops while a woman then followed the cop car around with the rifle in the back.

So gathering from the little details provided by The Stranger, is appears that the cops then returned to the car and started driving it, oblivious to the high-power rifle sitting on the trunk.

Police officials now say they are "very embarrassed" over the incident, adding that they are not sure if the gun was loaded, which means it probably was.

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Orlando Copwatch Founder To Go On Trial For Videotaping Incident

The Orlando Copwatch founder who was arrested on New Year’s Eve after videotaping a police officer making an arrest is scheduled to go on trial Wednesday (tomorrow).

John Kurtz is charged with battery on a police officer after a cop accused him of hitting him in the chest. He is also facing resisting arrest without violence and obstruction charges.

He is facing six years in prison.

Meanwhile, the video camera he was using to record that night – the one that would likely prove what really took place that night – went missing after police impounded it. Nobody has any logical explanation as to where it could have gone.

And the cop who arrested him, Orlando police officer Adam Gruler who is renowned for his frequent use of his Taser gun also has a history of arresting people for videotaping him.

In 2007, he arrested a WFTV news videographer who was questioning him on the side of the road after Gruler, not in uniform, was pulled over by Orange County sheriff deputies for apparently driving reckless.

Here is a video of the incident but I haven’t been able to find any other information on it.

 

Kurtz’s trial was originally scheduled for last month but it was postponed for tomorrow.

Here is a Facebook page with all the details about his arrest and case, encouraging local residents to attend in support of Kurtz. I would attend if I lived in the area.

Kurtz, who spent seven days in jail after his arrest, has been playing a huge role in documenting the ongoing arrests of activists defying an Orlando ordinance by feeding homeless people in a city park.

On a related note, the hacker group Anonymous has vowed to go all out on the City of Orlando if it doesn’t stop arresting people for feeding the homeless.

Maybe Anonymous can find the missing camera.

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Joey Boots Drops By Photo Shy NYC Store With Camera

So Joey Boots read about the ongoing saga between a storefront in New York City and people who have tried to photograph it and decided to pay it a visit Monday afternoon.

The saga started two weeks ago when a woman tried to photograph mannequins in the front window, only for her get physically confronted by a female from the store.

The store owner came flying at me like a puma, grabbed my arm insisting I erase the photo screaming in my face "I know my rights, I know my rights!" (which clearly, she does not). I proceeded to walk away and she followed me, putting her body against me and screaming in my face. I should have called the cops but I really just wanted this violent person out of my face and off my body so I erased the picture, we screamed at each other a bit more and it ended. 

The following day, a male photographer attempted to photograph the mannequins and he was also assaulted by a woman from the store.

[My friend] went there last night, took pictures of the weird mannequins in her storefront, and she flew out of the store and grabbed the strap of his bag, pushed him up against a fence, pressed her body onto him and insisted he delete the photos while trying to physically detain him. [He] got a cop, the cop tried to explain to her that she was wrong, to which she just kept repeating "I know my rights, I know my rights," even after the cops confirmed that she clearly does not know her rights. All of her friends got involved, screaming at [him] on the street. After she was informed that he did not need to delete anything, the cop took [him] down the block and said we all know she's defensive because she's selling illegal crap, but there have been incidences of violence on that block over much less of a disturbance, so take caution in how you proceed.

And this past weekend, longtime Photography is Not a Crime reader HLW decided to stop by and take photos. He was not assaulted, but a woman flipped him off.

But then again, he's a huge biker, so maybe they thought twice about engaging him in violence.

So Joey Boots didn't know what to expect today when he decided to drop by with his video camera.

He's been slapped around before, so it's not like that was going to faze him.

It turns out, everybody he videotaped outside the store was very courteous.

It should be noted that Boots is also a pretty hefty guy. And he was also carrying a video camera as opposed to a still camera, something I've learned can make people think twice about assaulting you (though not all the time).

And if you view the video, you'll see he was only dealing with men from the shop.

So maybe that crazy woman was out to lunch or something.

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L.A. Journalist Detained For Photographing Courthouse Seeks Answers

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Southern California journalist Greggory Moore was hoping to take some photos of people texting or talking on their cell phones while driving for a story he was writing.

He stood outside his home – which happens to be across the street from the Long Beach Courthouse – and started snapping away at passing drivers.

After about 15 minutes, eight Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies descended upon him as if he had been waving a firearm instead of a camera.

He was detained, frisked and questioned.

Here is how he describes it in the first of two articles he published about the June 2 incident in the Long Beach Post.

“You were suspiciously doing something gave us probable cause to contact you," said Sgt. Maurice Hill, the lead officer on the scene — that "suspicious activity" being my seeming to photograph the courthouse.

***

To leave the scene, I was required to provide my name, address, phone number, driver's license number, the name of the publication for which I was writing and the publisher's name and contact information. To get my camera back, I was required to show one of the officers its contents. 

Or that's what it felt like. The truth is, I was asked to show an officer the pics I'd taken, and I'm kicking myself that I didn't refuse. As for the rest of the information I provided, it didn't occur to me to decline it. They certainly didn't put it to me like I had a choice. And I tend to do what police officers tell me to do.

Moore decided to do a bit more research on the incident, contacting Sgt. Hill as well as other cops, prosecutors and even a city councilwoman to get more answers regarding detainment and body frisk searches of photographers.

This was Hill’s response:

"We have a duty to check out any suspicious circumstances," he says. And though he stipulates that there is no official directive stating that an individual taking pictures of the courthouse is, as a matter of legal fact, suspicious or must be acted upon, he says photographing the courthouse "always meets the standard for making contact [with the photographer]. Now, how it's done is a different thing."

He's anticipating — correctly — part of my issue with what happened: whether or not I was actually detained. He says he did not witness this part of the incident and so cannot comment. When I ask whether he feels someone taking pictures of the courthouse rises to the level warranting detainment, he declines comment, as he does on whether it is within policy to detain someone lacking probable cause.1  

He goes on to say that it is within policy not only to perform a "pat-down search" (his term) despite lacking probable cause, but that "taking pictures of the courthouse does meet the standard for a pat-down search."

But Hill says that whether such a search is performed is up to the discretion of the officer. Should one have been conducted in my situation? "Probably not," he says. 

But Hill is a beat cop, not accustomed to talking to journalists, so Moore interviewed the public information officer for the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.

And like most PIO’s, Sgt. Rich Peña, ended up talking in circles.

According to Sgt. Rich Peña, a PIO for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, whether officers contact an individual solely for photographing a courthouse or other similar institution "depends on what the situation is at that particular facility. If they have some sort of intelligence or some sort of information saying something's going to happen, or if they're on high alert ..."

However, Peña says that typically an individual would not be detained solely for taking pictures. 

And is eight officers excessive in such a circumstance? "On the face of it, yes," Peña says. "But I can think of 10 different reasons why you'd have eight guys out there." As a possible example he offers a scenario where several trainees were available when such a call came in, along with a lead officer who wants them to see how to handle a given situation. "But it does seem like a lot," he admits. "But without knowing what they were thinking, I couldn't tell you. … [But] if you tell me all the guy was doing was taking pictures and I'm John Q. Citizen, I say okay, that sounds like a lot. "

Peña names "reasonableness" as the standard that must be met for officers to conduct a pat-down search. "Is it reasonable to think the person may be a threat to your safety?" he says rhetorically.

Moore then contacted the Long Beach Police Department – who could easily have responded to the incident – and asked if photographing the courthouse warrants enough reasonable suspicion to detain a citizen.

"It depends. There's no black-and-white answer to that question," says Sgt. Rico Fernandez, a department spokesperson. "Detentions are based on reasonable suspicion, and that's a law that applies to the entire state of California. Reasonable suspicion is based on the officer's belief that a crime has occurred, is occurring, or is about to occur."

Fernandez confirms that taking photographs of the courthouse is a legal activity. "But a courthouse is considered a critical facility," he says, "and if somebody calls to report what they believe is suspicious, any law-enforcement agency receiving that call has an obligation to investigate."

But does it take eight officers to do so? Fernandez balks at saying how many officers clearly would be too many, but states, "Generally, that's the type of call that one officer would respond to."

Once officers responded and contacted the photographer, would they automatically conduct a pat-down search? "I am not saying everyone would do it or everyone has to do it," Fernandez says, "but you can be subjected to a pat-down search legally if you are the subject of a detention."

 He then contacted Gary Alexander, a Long Beach assistant city attorney who obviously never learned fundamental First Amendment law.

Alexander says he doesn't know offhand if taking pictures of the courthouse is legal,  but he says that if it is legal, in and of itself it does not rise to the level at which police may detain a person. As for pat-down searches, Alexander says they may be conducted on a detainee "for safety reasons." 

Then he contacted Long Beach Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, who represents the area where he was detained. And still didn’t get clear answers. Just a prepared statement.

"Not knowing the exact details or what type of security threats the courthouse experiences, it's hard to comment. That being said, I want to preserve the need and right of law enforcement to protect high profile local, state and federal properties, but feel this incident could have been handled better given your constitutional rights."

However, her office declined to comment on any issues related to the possibility that police in her district are detaining and pat-down searching persons at variance with state and federal law.

Moore probably should have interviewed a First Amendment lawyer or a criminal lawyer to get more solid answers.

But the responses he received from the people with the authority to make a difference in this ongoing War on Photography proves we are in for a long fight.

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Saga Continues At NYC Storefront Attempting To Ban Public Photography

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The New York store owners I wrote about last week that claimed people did not have the right to photograph their store from a public sidewalk have gotten even bolder.

If you recall, the photographer who had been complaining about it on a New York website was encouraging other photographers to go by the store and take pictures of the weird-looking mannequins in the front window.

Well, apparently somebody took her up on the offer and ended up getting assaulted.

This is how it was described on New Yorkers Live Journal.

Hi [info]hopita. I have an update/warning. [My friend] went there last night, took pictures of the weird mannequins in her storefront, and she flew out of the store and grabbed the strap of his bag, pushed him up against a fence, pressed her body onto him and insisted he delete the photos while trying to physically detain him. [He] got a cop, the cop tried to explain to her that she was wrong, to which she just kept repeating "I know my rights, I know my rights," even after the cops confirmed that she clearly does not know her rights. All of her friends got involved, screaming at [him] on the street. After she was informed that he did not need to delete anything, the cop took [him] down the block and said we all know she's defensive because she's selling illegal crap, but there have been incidences of violence on that block over much less of a disturbance, so take caution in how you proceed.

So long-time Photography is Not a Crime reader HLW decided to give it a try.

I met him last year when I was visiting New York and he is a huge leather-clad biker. I had pictures but somehow lost them, which is why I’ve never posted them.

He is a very nice guy, a family man, but he can come across intimidating if you judge him solely on appearance.

So naturally, he was able to snap a few shots without getting threatened or assaulted, although he did get flipped off once.

HLW posted his story on New York Live Journal, only to create a firestorm of comments with people berating him for taking pictures of the store owners without their permission.

If you're in the area and want to check it out, here are the directions from the original post.

The store is unmarked, but it is on the south side of 30th Street, 2-4 stores west of the southwest corner of 30th and Broadway, with 3 cock-eyed mannequins (blue down-turned eyes) in brown wigs in the window, and whatever else fell off the truck that day

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NFTA Creating Photo Policy After Viral Video Exposed Threatening Cop


 

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is creating a policy outlining how officers should deal with citizens who record them in public.

The policy, of course, is a response to the above video that went viral earlier this month showing an officer threatening to physically batter a citizen who videotaped him.

"If You Take My Picture Again, I'm Going To Fucking Break Your Face.,” stated the officer.

The NFTA has refused to release the officer’s name, assuring the media that he was suspended for two days.

But several Photography is Not a Crime readers have determined that his name is David Capretto, a cop with a history of violence against citizens.

Mickey Osterreicher, attorney for the National Press Photographers Association, is helping the NFTA drafting the policy as he did with Amtrak in 2009.

According to The Buffalo News:

The attorney, Mickey H. Osterreicher, is a former Buffalo Courier-Express photographer who now specializes in media law in the area. Upon receiving the letter, NFTA Police Chief George W. Gast arranged a meeting with Osterreicher.

“It was a low-key discussion about First Amendment rights and photography in public places,” Osterreicher said. “People have the right to take pictures in public places.”

The meeting was productive, he said, and the NFTA is in the process of establishing a photo and video policy similar to one Osterreicher helped Amtrak draft in 2009.

However, Amtrak seemed to renege on that policy a year later and we have no word since whether or not they are still allowing photographers to take pictures.

To give you an idea how light this officer's punishment was, check out the story of a Tulsa police captain who was suspended for two weeks without pay after he refused to take his officers to a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at a mosque.

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