With two hands on his gun, a San Diego police officer confronted photojournalist JC Playford as he was conducting a video interview outside the main sheriff headquarters, accusing him of “trespassing on county property” Friday afternoon.
Playford had been interviewing another photojournalist, Gerry Nance, who had been shoved to the ground by a San Diego sheriff’s deputy last Wednesday while attempting to cover a stand-off situation involving a man barricaded inside an apartment with a gun.
Nance was planning on entering San Diego sheriff headquarters to file a complaint against the deputy, who not only shoved him, but later arrested him on Penal Code 148, the state’s resisting and obstruction charge, which is routinely used in contempt-of-cop cases.
But because Playford was carrying a tripod in a rifle case as he was conducting his interview, somebody from the sheriff’s office called police.
The video, posted below, includes footage from both Playford and Nance’s cameras as well as audio clips from Nance’s recorder from the night he was shoved and arrested.
It begins with Playford interviewing Nance about the incident until sirens can be heard in the background, which was when Nance lifts his own camera to begin recording Playford.
“Something going on?” Playford asks as a police car pulls up behind him, his camera pointing at Nance.
“Yeah, you’re the star of the show,” Nance responds, capturing the surreal scene on his own camera.
Playford turns around and acknowledges the cop, but then turns to face Nance again to continue his interview.
But the cop walks up with his gun drawn, ordering Playford to remove his hand from the bag. A potentially deadly situation considering this is the same agency that recently killed a man for holding a pen.
As more cops and deputies move in to handcuff and frisk him, Playford accuses them of violating his Constitutional rights.
The original cop responds by saying, “Well you know the number for our internal affairs. You can call them and complain again,” indicating he is familiar with Playford.
The cop then pauses for a moment and says, “It’s not a big…” and trails off, as if thinking better of finishing that sentence while being recorded.
And he’s right. It’s not a big deal in the eyes of internal affairs. Cops in this country know their internal affairs departments are almost as toothless as citizen review boards. Even the U.S. Department of Justice doesn’t seem to faze them much, as we’ve seen with departments in cities like Portland, Seattle, Baltimore, Albuquerque and Miami.
At one point there are as many as eight law enforcement officers from both agencies involved in detaining and frisking Playford.
Playford, who has a long history of altercations over the right to record with both agencies, believes the sheriff’s department called police – rather than dispatch its own deputies – because they knew he did not have a rifle in the case.
But they just wanted to make life difficult for him as they have done so many times in the past, he said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.
The San Diego deputy ended up handcuffing Playford and frisking him before opening the rifle case and discovering a tripod.
One of the officers at the scene was San Diego Police Lieutenant Kevin Mayer, a former public information officer who knows Playford.
“He should have diffused the situation,” Playford said.
As someone who’s no stranger to these types of situations (in his own words, “If you only knew how many guns I’ve had pointed at me for standing on street corners, it’d blow your mind”), Playford had some stern words for the officers in the end.
But who can blame him at that point?
“San Diego as a whole has a complete breakdown in its criminal justice system,” he said. “It goes as high as the U.S. Attorney for the Southwest United States and trickles down to the FBI in this city, all the way down to both the San Diego police and sheriff’s departments.”
The San Diego cop claimed he was trespassing, but California law is clear, which means the entire pretext for the detainment was false:
(c) This section shall not apply to any of the following persons:
(1) Any person engaged in lawful labor union activities that are permitted to be carried out on the property by state or federal law.
(2) Any person on the premises who is engaging in activities protected by the California Constitution or the United States Constitution.
Playford, who works for a company called American News and Information Services, which sells video footage to local television news stations, has a pending lawsuit against the San Diego Sheriff’s Department over its insistence that he needs department-issued press credentials in order to do his job. Below is a video message from Ed Peruta, president of the company, discussing the recent incident.
The city of San Diego’s Police Department was dropped from that lawsuit.
Nance also works for the same company, responding to scenes when Playford is unable to do so. In 2013, they were both held at gunpoint for recording outside a power plant. That video is also below.
Over the summer, Playford had an altercation with a San Diego paramedic, in which he has filed a letter of intent to sue.
Contact the San Diego Police Department at 619-531-2000 or 858-484-3154. Or leave a comment on their Facebook page.
Contact the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department via their website and Twitter or by phone at 858-974-2222. They no longer have a Facebook after settling a lawsuit earlier this year over deletion of comments and banning.
PINAC reporter NoOne Marshall contributed to this report.