The first time he was arrested, Ed Ramirez merely wanted to get into a press conference at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
But he didn’t have the sheriff-issued press credentials, so he was told he couldn’t enter and after several minutes of insisting and finally just attempting to walk in with his camera recording, he was arrested and charged with resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer.
You can see the entire sequence in the three videos below, the third video showing the actual arrest.
The 34-year-old man said he only wanted to “quietly witness and observe” the press conference that day in February, which he figured was his First Amendment right, but obviously the sheriff’s office didn’t see it that way.
The second time he was arrested was the following month inside the Ventura County courthouse as he was preparing for his first case.
He had walked into the courthouse with a camera recording and into the district attorney’s office, then to the public defender’s office, all while being followed by sheriff deputies who kept ordering him to turn off his camera.
He eventually spotted Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean in a corridor and walked up to talk to him about his arrest while recording.
“Ten deputies suddenly jumped on me and arrested me,” he said Tuesday night during a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
He was once again charged with resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer, which is that state’s contempt-of-cop statute.
But because of his previous pending arrest, the judge refused to allow him to be released on his own recognizance, ordering him to remain in jail for ten days to teach him a lesson.
“That was uncalled for,” he said. “People who had been arrested for violent crimes were in there for less time than I was.”
Deputies are holding two cameras, one from each of his arrests, as “evidence.” He was able to obtain video from his first arrest as discovery. He has yet to receive footage from his second arrest.
Nevertheless, he is preparing to go to trial next month for both cases, which have been consolidated into a single trial. He has a public defender.
And it’s not going to be easy considering the sheriff’s office does have the discretion of not allowing everybody into their press conference under the First Amendment’s “time, place and manner restrictions,” according to Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.
After all, if they open it up to the public and wind up with an overcrowded press room where the reporters can’t even get in, then that would defeat the original purpose of disseminating information to the media.
In public, of course, press credentials, including those doled out by law enforcement agencies, do not give reporters any more right than non-journalists, but they do give reporters the opportunity to be escorted into crime scenes.
But in this day and age where anybody with a camera can claim reporter status, some law enforcement agencies are doing away with their credential system as the Orange County Sheriff”s Office did last year.
But the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office still hands out credentials, which apparently is how they determine who gets to enter their press conferences.
The Ventura County court system also has a proposed rule in place that forbids brining cameras into courthouses without prior approval, but that appears to very new and not in place when he was arrested.
However, deputies kept informing Ramirez of the rule as they ordered him to stop recording, but he shrugged them off because it wasn’t an actual law.
“They kept telling me to turn off the camera, to turn off the camera, that you can’t record in the courthouse,” he said.
“He said it’s a rule. I said is it a rule or is it a law? Do you enforce rules or do you enforce laws?”
According to the Ventura County “Rules of the Superior Court,” it appears to be a proposed rule that hasn’t taken effect yet because it is highlighted in red after a July 1, 2013 revision.
Furthermore, the proposed rule, as you can read below, forbids photography or videography is most areas of the courthouse, but makes exceptions to “non-court agencies,” including the district attorney’s office and public defender’s office, which is where he was recording.
B. Use of Cellular Phones and Other Electronic Devices
1. No one may use a camera, cell phone camera, video, photographic, audio or other electronic device to transmit, record, or take pictures in any part of the courthouse except as permitted by local rule and California Rules of Court, rule 1.150 or upon written approval of the Presiding Judge. For purposes of this rule, court facilities include the full entry security screening areas, lobby, courtrooms, judges’ chambers, clerk’s offices, court offices and the hallways adjacent to these areas. Court facilities do not include offices occupied by non-court agencies including the District Attorney’s Office and Victim Services Division, the Public Defender’s Office or the County Law Library.
So he should be able to win an acquittal in his second case, but the first case might prove to be a little more difficult.
However, it does once again open up the timeworn question as to who is a journalist and who isn’t a journalist, a question that will continue to be raised as the media continues to lay off staffers and everyday citizens continue to learn and assert their First Amendment rights to document government activity.
After all, with the way things are going in the mainstream media, we’re not too far from the day when officials call a press conference and nobody shows up.