In January 2013, I entered the Miami-Dade Metrorail with a friend visiting from out of town when we decided to take photos from a platform as we waited for a train to take us home, knowing we were completely within our rights to do so.
But a security guard from 50 State, the company contracted by Miami-Dade County to provide security services for the trains and courthouses, approached me and informed me that I was not allowed to take photos of the tracks, something we were not doing, but something that is not illegal, especially considering Miami-Dade Transit has pictures of the tracks posted on its website.
I asserted my right to take photos and before I knew it, I was being dragged down the escalator in a chokehold in what was one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life (video below).
It was a surreal experience considering I already had a pending lawsuit against the company from being assaulted on a previous occasion, not to mention “permanently banned” on another occasion for taking photos when the county code makes it clear that non-commercial photography is allowed without a permit.
Both my friend and I ended up in handcuffs and when Miami-Dade police arrived, they almost took us to jail on a charge of making excessive noise, even though the video shows that was not the case. Instead they issued me a citation for making excessive noise, which I took to court and was found not guilty, despite the fact that a Miami-Dade cop perjured himself by claiming he had witnessed me yelling and screaming and drawing a crowd of onlookers, even though it was after midnight and there was barely a soul in sight.
The incident prompted my lawyer to withdraw the pending state lawsuit and refile a federal civil rights suit against the company, including the most recent incident as well as three prior incidents with 50 State over my right to record on the Metrorail.
Earlier this year, the case settled.
Since then, I encountered a 50 State security guard in the Miami-Dade Courthouse who told me I was not allowed to record Michael Burns of Cop Block Central Florida making a public records request. He was the same guard that frantically called police on PINAC crew member Taylor Hardy last year for taking his photo. You can see that exchange in the above video.
This time, the guard showed more restraint, but called police anyway, who eventually caught up to us and tried to convince us that we were not allowed to video record in the courthouse without a permit. The cops were professional and allowed me to see the policy – which merits a huge thumbs up on their part considering how many times authorities fabricate policies out of thin air.
Like most policies, it is poorly written where taking a cursory glance at it would lead someone to believe that all photography is banned without a permit. It is only after reading the second sentence, as you can see below, where it is mentioned that photography is allowed for both news and private use, which is exactly what we were doing. The full policy is further below and also includes Metrorail stations considering they are county property.
The cops seemed to accept this and didn’t push the matter any further and we left because Burns was sent to another location to obtain his public records, which is another story I will publish in the future.
In fact, the only reason I was sitting in the courthouse when they approached me was because I had lost my iPhone and was trying to use my iPad to track it down, but I was unable to get online inside the courthouse to use the necessary tracking app.
Before that, we had walked out of the courthouse and were set to leave when I realized I did not have my phone, which is why I returned, leaving my big camera in my car. Luckily, Burns was on hand to video record the encounter with the cops. And I eventually found my phone on the roof of my car, which I had left there by mistake when I was setting up the camera gear for our initial entrance (yes, I’m an idiot).
That’s just background in case you’re wondering why I wasn’t recording with my camera and what Burns meant when he referred to my phone towards the end of the video or why we left the courthouse after establishing our right to record. There simply was no more need to be in the courthouse at that time.
Knowing my readers, many will be disappointed I did not take the Metrorail case to trial, but a trial would not have done anything except put the decision in the hands of a jury, which can be highly unpredictable.
There was also the risk that the judge would throw out the case, not even allowing a trial. A trial would also have lasted about a week where I would be forced to sit in a courtroom wasting valuable time. And even if the jury did rule in my favor, no disciplinary action would be taken against the company or the individual guards other than the jury deciding on a monetary sum.
Also, a trial would not have done anything to further establish we have the right to record on the train because that’s long been established. We’ll be conducting periodic tests in the future to see if the guards have finally acknowledged this.
The goal at PINAC is to move forward, which is why we are organizing into a nonprofit where we are now able to accept tax-deductible donations. To read our plans for the future, check out our executive summary.