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Randall Thomas was standing in the area circled in blue when he started filming the FBI building across the street. A Homeland Security Officer pulled up and parked in the same spot circled in yellow (but in a different direction). The fed handcuffed him and made him sit on the curb in the area circled in red for ten minutes.(Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

A 43-year-old man was jailed for six hours – and had his camera and memory card confiscated by a judge – after filming an FBI building from across the street in New York City Monday.

Randall Thomas, a professional photographer, said he was standing on the corner of Duane Street and Broadway in downtown Manhattan when he used his video camera to pan up and down on the 42-story building at 26 Federal Plaza.

He was immediately accosted by a security guard in a brown uniform who told him he was not allowed to film the building.

Thomas asserted his legal right to film from a public street. The guard called a Homeland Security Officer who asked Thomas what he was filming.

“I said ‘that’s none of your business,’” Thomas said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Wednesday night.

The federal officer handcuffed Thomas and sat him on the curb for ten minutes, before escorting him inside the same FBI building and taking him to the 10th floor and placing him in a holding cell.

His charges: Disorderly conduct; failure to comply and impeding duties of a federal officer.

During his incarceration, the feds persuaded Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV to sign a search warrant that authorized them to confiscate his camera and memory card, which were not returned to him when he was released six hours later.

This is not his first run-in he’s had with authorities for using his cameras in public. Two years ago, he was arrested for taking a still photo of the same building. He was escorted into the same building where he was handcuffed to a pole for two hours and interrogated by feds.

He ended up pleading not guilty to two misdemeanors but said he never heard back about that case, so he assumes it was somehow dropped from the system.

He also has an ongoing case with the Civilian Complaint Review Board after he says he was assaulted by a group of NYPD officers in Times Square for filming them in February.

“It’s crazy how they can arrest me when you can see the same building on Google Maps,” he said.

During our interview last night, we both pulled up the FBI building on Google Maps on our respective computers and he explained where he was standing, where he was forced to sit after he was handcuffed and where the Homeland Security Officer parked.

In fact, in the Google Maps picture, there is the same type of vehicle parked in the same spot except it is pointed in a different direction than it was when it pulled up to arrest him.

Two months ago, a photographer in Arlington, Virginia was ordered to delete a photo of a federal building even though I was able to pull up that same building on Google Maps in seconds, as I did with the FBI building in New York.

Maybe they’ll come barging down my door for panning up and down the building on Google Maps.

Here is a PDF Thomas compiled that includes a copy of the search warrant, his citations and definition of the statutes he is accused of violating.


Google Maps allows one to pan up and down the FBI building in the same manner Thomas was doing when he was arrested.


I am a multimedia journalist who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle after having photographed Miami police against their wishes in Feb. 2007. Please help the fight by donating to my Legal Defense Fund in the top left sidebar, which helps pay for the thousands of dollars I’ve acrued in debt since my arrest. To keep updated on the latest articles, join my networks at Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed.