After being warned by the U.S. Department of Justice not to violate the rights of citizens who record them in public, the Baltimore Police Department has found a new way to do just that.
And it’s not just threatening citizens with loitering as they have done in the past.
Now they’re detaining photographers under the guise of a “field interview,” which is a traditional method in questioning citizens whom police have a reasonable suspicion of committing a crime or at least have information about a crime.
But it is nothing more than a stop-and-frisk detainment where the citizen is forced to hand over his identification and empty his pockets.
And it is highly unconstitutional if the citizen has done nothing more than snap a photo of a police officer in public.
That’s what happened to Kerron Fields last September after he snapped a photo of a Baltimore police officer from across the street with his Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L IS lens.
After snapping the photo, Fields, 42, continued walking towards the Metro station to make his way back to Alexandria, Virginia.
The cop started chasing him down, yelling at him to stop, but Fields was listening to music and didn’t hear him.
However, he did notice other citizens in the area indicating to him that somebody was trying to get his attention.
But before he could figure out what was going on, the cop had caught up to him.
“I was at the top of the escalator and he grabbed my backpack,” Fields said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Tuesday night.
“I pulled out my earphones and he asked for my ID.”
Instead of his identification, Fields pulled out his phone and began video recording.
The cop told him to turn the phone off, but Fields refused.
The cop, whose name is R. Tonks, told him he was not allowed to record the interaction because it was a “field interview.”
He then pulled the phone from Fields’ hand, turned it off and laid it down on the ground.
Fields continually asked if he was free to leave, but Tonks said no.
More cops arrived and Fields was forced to hand over his identification where they checked him out for warrants, telling him he was being detained because he was acting “suspicious.”
“He emptied my pockets, he searched my bags, he kept asking who do I work for. He kept asking if I was with the media trying to get dirt on them.”
After 20 minutes, they released him with a notice acknowledging that he had been detained in a field interview.
“I felt very humiliated,” he said. “I expected more from police than to run somebody down for taking photos.”
In the video below, Fields describes the incident before playing the video he recorded with the cop, which starts at 6:15.