San Diego Sheriff's Sergeant Attempts to Intimidate News Videographer

Another cop tried to play news editor with a photojournalist by standing in front of his camera and informing him it was in “bad taste” to video record the investigation of a traffic fatality.

The San Diego Sheriff’s Sergeant, who sounds like she said her name is “Guerra,” but correct me if I’m wrong, then proclaimed it was her First Amendment right to block his camera.

But photojournalist JC Playford said she didn’t have the right to interfere with his work.

She ended up walking away and he ended up getting his footage, which shows the tragic aftermath of a motorcyclist’s body under a tarp being lifted into the back of the coroner’s van.

While the sergeant believes it was disrespectful to the man’s family, it is, in fact, educational for anybody driving the streets that life can be very fleeting.

Playford, who has been arrested four times while recording authorities, is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and the San Diego Police Department over press credentials.

According to the North County Times:

San Diego police issued freelance journalist James Charles Playford a press credential but later took it away after someone filed a restraining order against him, a police spokesman said earlier this year.

After that, American News and Information Services issued Playford one of its own press credentials. But San Diego County law enforcement officials have not routinely honored the privately issued credentials, the lawsuit says.

San Diego County sheriff’s deputies have arrested Playford four times since 2010 on suspicion of obstructing them in the performance of their duties. Playford, who has a reputation among police agencies for being loud and aggressive in his coverage, was filming police activity and did not comply with sheriff’s deputies’ orders to identify himself, move or leave.


About Carlos Miller

Carlos Miller is founder and publisher of Photography is Not a Crime, which began as a one-man blog in 2007 to document his trial after he was arrested for photographing police during a journalistic assignment. He is also the author of The Citizen Journalist's Photography Handbook, which can be purchased through Amazon.

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  • Saber

    This video is tasteless, and proves the videographer has no class no class.
    The L.E.O is right in this situation. Totally uncalled for.

    If you want to stand up for your 1st amendment rights, go to the airport and film the TSA. You’ll definitely be accosted by them, and probably whatever cops are working with them. Or go to a protest and confront the jack-booted nazis running crowd control.
    I’m a constitutional conservative, and its my opinion that the Officer was right.

    • Kilroy238

      If so, then you’re really not much of a “constitutional conservative” are you? If you really were then you would be one of the first to say that an opinion of bad taste is irrelevant.

    • sfmc98

      You must be new here.

      The publisher of this blog, Carlos Miller, actually does regularly film the TSA. The majority of the readers here believe in the right to do that just the same as filming an accident scene.

      When you say “the officer was right,” do you mean that she has the right to make him stop filming? Or that it was her opinion that it was in poor taste?

    • Gerry Nance

      If it is your opinion that “the government should control the gathering of news”, then sadly you fail to reach the level of a “constitutional conservative”. You are pathetic, miserable, lackadaisical slothful, and constitutionally ignorant sheeple.

  • Tom

    Good for the cop!!! The guy with the camera is SCUM.

    I’m against all the attacks on our constitution… but this guy goes a little to far. Show some respect for the deceased and their family. This video is NOT news and should be yanked

    • Kilroy238

      So you’re against attacks on the constitution but only when you happen to agree or identify with the one being attacked. Interesting.

    • Name

      Of course it’s news. Watch your local news broadcast for an accident report and you’ll see footage of the police investigating the scene. That’s exactly what this footage is. Where do you think that footage comes from? It comes from guys like this who film the scene.

    • JDS

      So, Tom draws the line, folks. Next time you question whether or not something should be filmed, check with Tom.

    • sfmc98

      As I said to the guy above, you must be new here. When you say “this guy goes a little too far,” are you saying that you believe what he is doing isn’t constitutionally protected? Because if it is, then the cop has no business trying to make him stop.

    • JohnLloydScharf

      Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.
      Letter to Dr. James Currie (28 January 1786) from Thomas Jefferson

  • Steve

    I think the Officer is right. She spoke the truth and showed restraint in walking away after speaking her mind. This idiot with the camera should get a life.
    I have to agree with everything posted before me. The “photojournalist” is a POS.

    • sfmc98

      “The “photojournalist” is a POS.”

      You put photojournalist in doubt quotation marks. Tell me why. Is it because you disagree with his manner of filming? Why is he a POS? For covering a newsworthy event?

  • Molly

    My Boss and my coworkers have all read this article. We all agree. This guy is not a photojournalist. He’s nothing more than a hack. Bad form, poor taste, and too much time on his hands. If he really wants to defend the constitution, go find the real tyrants. These officers were not doing anything improper. I agree with the officer.

    • Name

      I guess your boss and coworkers don’t understand local news reporting, then, because there’s nothing wrong with taking a shot of an accident scene. The editor decides what footage to use, not the cameraman. The cameraman just gets lots of footage so the editor can make those decisions.

    • JDS

      Poor taste is not unconstitutional.

    • sfmc98

      “This guy is not a photojournalist. He’s nothing more than a hack.”

      This whole site is dedicated to who you call “hacks.” Basically citizen photojournalists who cover car crashes, police, demonstrations or anything of concern. Some of us don’t even have cheaply priced camera equipment but an Iphone or digital recorder. Proud to be a hack. The cop has no business stopping citizen photojournalists if they are participating in legal activity.

      By the way, why bring up your bosses and coworkers? Are they arbiters of who can be called a photojournalist or not?

    • Gerry Nance

      … “We decline the implicit invitation to embroil ourselves in questions of what constitutes “legitimate journalis[m].” The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here. We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish “legitimate” from “illegitimate” news.

      Any attempt by courts to draw such a distinction would imperil a fundamental purpose of the First Amendment, which is to identify the best, most important, and most valuable ideas not by any sociological or economic formula, rule of law, or process of government, but through the rough and tumble competition of the memetic marketplace.” …

      SEE page 36 keyword “embroil” in the CA O’Grady v. Superior Court (2006),

  • WorseThanDetroit

    The police aren’t there to enforce moral decency. They’re there to enforce the law. The officer should mind her own business.

  • Ryan French

    Fantastic, some of you believe the police should enforce their moral opinions on others. Professionally, I wouldn’t have shot video of the body bag, but the SGT has absolutely no say in the matter. She should spend more time ensuring her deputies are completing a thorough traffic fatality investigation so the family can have some closure as to what happened. That would be doing her job though.

  • Common Sense

    Ok, lets leave the morality out of it! If that was the case, then most everyone in public office would have to leave. I understand what the officer is doing, yet the photographer has done NOTHING wrong. He has every right to film the scene. The officer has clearly over stepped her duties.

  • sfmc98

    Wow, apparently, you’ve got some new readers! Hopefully everyone followed you from Pixiq but jeez, seems like some folks aren’t even aware of the nature of this blog.

    By the way, cool that you went with Disqus.

  • Gerry Nance

    The San Diego Sheriff’s Sergeant, “proclaimed it was her First Amendment right to block his camera.”

    Not while she is in civilian clothes and definitely not while she is working as a government employee, serving under the constitutional oath. She is an example of lacking supervision and failed training, of the San Diego County LEO’s.

  • rick

    Police car involved in fatal accident with motorcycle. Is the officer right to block video recording by photojournalist?

    • sfmc98

      No, the circumstances aren’t any different. She cannot interfere with his first amendment rights.

  • steveo

    Leos are starting, gradually, to bark a little, then retreat when they understand that you know your rights. This retreat by the Leo probably wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. I really like the direct approach by videographers. “I don’t wish to talk to you, go away and leave me alone. In other words, beat it.” If they’re going to arrest you, let them arrest you then, instead of mandy pambying back and forth for ID’s and credentials and all that nonsense.

  • steveo

    Also, I don’t think this is in bad taste, at all. For all that Leo knew is that this videographer is doing a series for high school students on the dangers of motorcycle driving and motorcycle driving without a helmet.

    I would have asked the Leo if the deceased was wearing a helmet. The reason we’re supposed to wear seat belts is so that we don’t get thrown out of the car in an accident and suffer a head injury. Not much safety in riding a motorcycle without a helmet. The truck driver probably walked away. The piece really makes an emotional statement when you see them take the body away. Alive one minute, dead the next. And totally preventable.

  • Boomer

    I want to thank Sgt. Guerra for clearing up something I’ve been wondering about for years. In every video footage I’ve ever viewed of police activity at a traffic accident, burglary, shooting, murder or other such mayhem there seems to be a huge number of law enforcement types engaged in nothing more complicated than standing still and talking to each other. I’ve always wondered why that is.

    Oh sure, there are officers actively involved in the investigation, or traffic and crowd control, but there seem to be a great many whose presence at the scene is merely a way to pad the time log of activities. Guerra has just proven my point. Her supervisory skills were sufficiently irrelevant to the accident investigation that no one missed her participation for an instant when she decided to go over and annoy Playford. Of course it’s astounding that someone with enough clairvoyant power to instantly determine that Playford wasn’t with the news media couldn’t instantly channel the ESP necessary to write the report on the accident and save the taxpayers a hell of a lot of time and money wasted on the rest of the officers at the scene. Perhaps she’s been ordered not to indulge in clairvoyance again, because she gets it wrong so often. No matter.

    I’m grateful to Sgt. Guerra. She gave me the clarity I’ve been seeking for many years. Perhaps this video should be used the next time her bosses start yammering about needing more money for their activities.

  • JohnLloydScharf

    I suggest not being killed in a public place. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place. It is up to the reporter to decide when and how it will be appropriate to publish, but you have to get the information/picture first. The government has no right to decide who is or is not a news gatherer. They also do not have a right to decide what is “appropriate.”

  • JohnLloydScharf

    You should not have to be “recognized” by an officer to collect news and information.

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