A passenger waiting for a train at Phoenix Valley Metro’s Mill Avenue and 3rd Street station in Tempe, Arizona was threatened by a private security guard recently for recording that guard and two of his partners attending to another rider who appeared to be ill.
The passenger, who identifies himself as Basil Pebble on YouTube, was at the station at about 8 p.m. on October 9 returning from Tempe Town Lake when he noticed three of Valley Metro’s contracted guards surrounding a man who was apparently having a medical issue.
Pebble, who writes that he believed the man was merely sick and not drunk or impaired, thought the guards might be unnecessarily giving the man a hard time.
So he pulled out his phone and started recording.
After about 25 seconds of Pebble recording video of the interaction, one of the guards noticed and began to approach Pebble, asking “What are you doing?”
Pebble, who from his YouTube account appears to be quite the activist, replied “Videotaping”.
“Why are you videotaping?,” the guard asked. ” I ain’t doing nothing wrong.”
“Well then you shouldn’t worry about me videotaping you,” Pebble said.
The guard then told Pebble “You can’t videotape me unless I give you permission. You better look up the law.”
Pebble laughed at that, and the guard then mockingly laughed back at him.
Pebble was right to be amused because it is actually the guard who needs to look up the law, not Pebble. Valley Metro stations are public property, and the platforms are open to the public at all hours and unrestricted in any way from access by anyone.
Since recording and photography in public is perfectly legal and persons standing on public property have no reasonable expectation of privacy, the guard has no authority to demand that anyone stop recording at a light rail station.
The encounter then took an ugly turn when the guard walked right up to Pebble, forcing him to back up, and asked him if he had a light rail pass.
Pebble answered in the affirmative, although it is unclear why this matters since no ticket is necessary to access the platform and passenger tickets are only checked randomly once they are actually on the train. Regardless, Pebble has posted a picture of his valid monthly pass for October on his website as proof that he was a ticketed passenger that evening.
Once Pebble confirmed he had a ticket the guard informed him, again incorrectly, that Pebble was on private property. The guard then continued walking at Pebble until he stepped off the platform onto the adjacent street. At that point Pebble asked the guard his name and number, to which the guard responded “Nunya” (as in “Nunya business”). Pebble is seen on the tape asking another guard for the first one’s name but none is given.
The video ends with Pebble continuing to film the scene from the adjacent public street, as he states on his website that he was afraid that the guard was going to assault him or smash his camera. He writes that he is planning to file a lawsuit against Valley Metro for violating his right to film.
Valley Metro Rail, Inc., was formed as “a nonprofit, public corporation” in 2002 and therefore its stations and stops are indeed public property subject to filming by any interested parties at any time so long as they are not interfering with public safety activities. This would obviously also apply to private security guards contracted by the agency since taxpayer dollars are used to pay them.
Metro does have a policy which covers asking for permission before recording or filming on Metro property but this appears to be geared towards commercial photography (something in which Pebble obviously was not engaged) as it requests insurance information be provided. Interestingly, this filming policy states that “Valley Metro, its employees or agents, must not be presented in a negative manner. In general, filming and photography must not portray public transportation as an unsafe or dangerous environment. Filming must not include scenes that depict the following: suicide, attempted suicide, pushing someone in front of an operating bus or train, violence, or sexually explicit activity or assault on transit property.” It is unclear how that edict would possibly be enforced.
Contact Susan Tierney, Communications Manager, at 602-523-6004 or Ann Glaser, Public Information Specialist, at 602-523-6055.