I was taking photos of a sign outside the Homestead city council meeting in South Florida this month when a police officer named John Edward Frank informed me that I was forbidden from taking his photo – even though I had no interest in photographing him in the first place.
So I started video recording him instead.
What else did he expect considering I was wearing my Photography is Not a Crime t-shirt?
There is a lesson here to be learned for all police officers: If you don’t want to be recorded, don’t make yourself the story, period. This is especially true when interacting with the media. And particularly so when dealing with PINAC correspondents.
In fact, it was exactly two years ago where we had a similar discussion with officer Frank over the very same sign banning weapons I was photographing where he had an issue with a small pocketknife my friend, Matt Oakey, was carrying.
Frank has since watched me like a hawk.
The reason I was photographing the sign was because in the past, police have used this sign to ban people from bringing in pocket knives as they did to Oakey, which you can see in the second video below.
However, the statute listed on the sign does not cover “common pocket knives.”
The statute cited FS. 790.06(12) bans firearms and concealed weapons from government buildings. The issue is that FS. 790.001(13) explicitly excludes “common pocket knives” from the definition of weapon.
The Florida Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court in Bunkley v. Florida, defined common pocket knife to include a folding knife with a blade less than four inches.
Blades longer than four inches are presumably left to reasonable interpretation, but blades shorter than four inches are definitively not a weapon under the law.
As a member of Florida Carry, an organization who often fights for such rights, I thought the sign may have been of interest to them. However, while taking pictures of this sign, Frank, who was standing to my left out of the view finder, informed me that I was forbidden from taking his picture.
Frank wasn’t speaking clearly, and was quickly walking away, so I had to have him repeat this a third time before I could understand what he was saying.
Upon understanding what Frank was saying, I asked him what statute or lawful authority gave him an ability to give such an order.
Expecting the fireworks to be inside of the meeting, I was not recording at this time, but then quickly put my phone on record. The video is the first one posted below.
Realizing he was being recorded, Frank backed down from his initial statement. When I asked him again what statute forbade me from taking his picture, he ignored me and started walking back to the metal detector.
Continuing to press him, he relented that he didn’t want his “likeness” taken, and that I didn’t have to take it. He then stated I could do whatever I want, but he didn’t have to stand still for the photo.
It is amazing how quickly he backed his unlawful order down to a simple request once he knew he was on camera. Imagine how he would have acted had I not started recording.
Frank is a reserve officer, so he only gets paid a dollar a year and is required to work at least 16 hours a month.
Usually, people become officers to work their way into full-time work or just to keep their law enforcement certification valid, which appears to be the case here because Frank’s full-time job is head of security detail at the nearby air force base.
So he’s not even a rent-a-cop, but a “volunteer-a-cop.”
Then later that night, some young officers, likely also volunteer-a-cops, informed me that I needed to obtain permission to setup my camcorder on the sidewalk outside the building to record interviews.
Advising them of my intention to exercise my First Amendment rights twice, I welcomed them to violate those rights if they wanted to become defendant in a civil rights suit.
But they scurried away like cockroaches before I could even set up.
Fortunately, not every officer on the Homestead police force is unaware of our right to photograph them in public.
In the third video below, you can see Homestead Police Captain Tony Sincore “absolutely” acknowledging that we have the right to record them, even inside the police department.
The issues in Homestead are much deeper than cops who do not like to be recorded, including one officer named Anthony Green who has killed four citizens and still remains on the force.
That issue came to light during February’s city council meeting, which prompted the mayor and the rest of the council to cut off a speaker and scurry into a side room to avoid the issue as you can see in the final video below.
If you are in South Florida and would like to attend the next Homestead City Council meeting, it will be held May 18, 2016 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
But come early because this month, Mayor Jeff Porter started the meeting at 5:47 p.m., which is likely a violation of the Sunshine Law.
Do you think Homestead Police Department needs to train their officers on the First Amendment?
Do you believe police officers should not try to intimidate reporters or citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights to photograph and record in public?
If so please feel free to contact the City of Homestead and/or the Homestead Police Department to politely voice your concerns.
City of Homestead; phone: (305) 224-4433
The Mayor Jeff Porter; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City Manager George Gretsas; email: email@example.com.
Homestead Police Department; phone: 305-247-1535
Internal Affairs Antonio Aquino; phone: 786-493-2565; email: Antonio.Aquino@homesteadpolice.com.