Dave Ridley, a New Hampshire journalist and member of the Free State Project, was ejected from the Penrose Public Library in Colorado Springs last week after security officials told him he had to obtain permission from officials to record an anti-Trump meeting that was set to take place there.
The event was sponsored by a group called Unite Colorado Springs and was advertised on the group’s Facebook page and their website as a community forum welcoming both progressives and moderates who are “ready to make positive change in our beloved community.”
Ridley, who was in Colorado visiting family, arrived at the library early to cover the event. But as he was standing in the corridor outside of the meeting room he was approached by an library security guard who advised him that he would need to get permission before video recording inside the building.
“So, to do any filming in the building with a camera at all, you have to get ahold of the management here,” says a library employee wearing an official looking shirt with a PPLD Security logo on the chest.
Ridley asks if the building is a public place before the employee goes on to tell him, “We have policies here though, and we post those up online. We have them all over the place and one of the policies is that you can’t film in here without permission. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to grant you that permission. So if you’d like to do that, you can.”
Ridley continues to video record the interaction as the employee leads him to the main security desk, apparently to obtain the mandated permission while the employee insists that he turn his camera off. Ridley refuses to stop recording and tells the employee, “I don’t do that. It’s not my way.”
Anyone who has followed Dave Ridley, his Youtube channel or his website, will tell you that turning off the camera is definitely not his way. Ridley is a self-described Gonzo-style journalist known for documenting stories and events that he, many times, becomes a part of. Ridley has been involved in this style of journalism, he says, since discovering the activists in the Free State Project in 2002.
Ridley is soon met by another security guard who provides him with the name and number of the person from the library that give out the permissions, Sean Anglum.
Ridley documents his attempts to get a library official on the phone while security watches him but because it was Saturday no one was available. As he makes the call a third security officer enters the video and asks the two others if they are going to call the police. That’s where things seem to take a turn for the worst.
“So what’s your reason for calling the police specifically?” Ridley asks.
“We don’t have to tell you.” One of the employees responds.
“Right now you’re trespassing.” Another employee chimes in.
“Have I been asked to leave yet?” Ridley asks.
“Yes, you were asked to leave.” The employee responds, but the video proves that never happened.
Still, Ridley agrees to leave the building while continuing to document the interaction as employees follow him, making up a few more rules as they escort him outside.
“It’s actually against our policy for you to even film the staff in this area,” the employee tells Ridley, though no such policy banning video recording in the building is listed on the library district website.
In fact, the only policy listed on the library’s website that even even references video recording in the building appears in the library’s code of conduct which bans the following behavior:
“Staring at, or following, a patron or staff in a manner that reasonably can be expected to disturb him or her, including photographing or filming persons without prior approval from PPLD.”
In this instance, it doesn’t appear that Ridley was following anyone around with the video camera until he was approached by security demanding he get permission to start. In fact, the first portion of the video series shows he was only able to capture the initial interaction with security on an audio recorder because he hadn’t yet to turn on his camera while he was waiting for the event to begin.
“But you are a taxpayer funded bunch.” Ridley tells one of the employees as he continues to slowly walk out of the building. The employees response couldn’t have been more condescending.
“I love when people say that. Yes, we are a public building, sure, but we are also…” the employee stares off into space as she appears to make up a few more things to prove her point, “…we’re kinda privately owned as well. And I don’t have to tell you why. I don’t have to explain our rules. If you truly want to know, it’s a privacy issue, so…”
As the group reaches the door of the building Ridley is advised by the employee that he will not be allowed back into the building until he stops video recording. They seem to all agree that Ridley can return into the building with his audio recorder running as long as he is not capturing video.
The video ends as the audio continues and Ridley re-enters the building. As Ridley walks through the building you can hear the library employees speaking on the phone to police, giving them Ridley’s description.
After the employee ends his call he is heard telling Ridley that he is again being asked to leave the building.
Ridley says after the incident his only intention was to post the video to YouTube and hold what he calls a “micro-protest” to bring attention to the issue. But days after he was notified by YouTube that a privacy complaint had been filed against the first three videos in the six video series.
Apparently the many rules and policies employees in Ridley’s video invoked to remove him from the building do not equally apply to everyone. In our research for this story we found dozens of videos posted to YouTube that were taken inside the Penrose Library, including videos of other public events held in the same room as this one. We even found a video of the event Ridley was trying to document posted to Facebook both here and here.
We have reached out to library officials to ask them about the incident as well as the enforcement of the policies the employees in the video described. We have not heard back. Maybe you’ll have better luck.
UPDATE: Theresa Richard, who wrote this article, obtained the following response from the library’s executive director, John Spears, prior to the publishing of this article, but I inadvertently left it out when editing. CM
Thank you for your patience. The questions that we have received from you and a few others have given us the opportunity to examine and to consider clarifying our policy on filming and photography within the library. The policy that currently covers this is our “Code of Conduct Policy”, available at http://ppld.org/code-conduct-policy, specifically “#18. Staring at, or following, a patron or staff in a manner that reasonably can be expected to disturb him or her, including photographing or filming persons without prior approval from PPLD”. This policy is available on our website (if you type “filming” into the search box on our homepage, it is the fourth result) and is also displayed in our facilities. Although we expect we will be clarifying this policy in the future, we have spoken with our attorney regarding our right to control filming or photography within our facilities, and we understand that we are within our rights to limit filming and photography within our libraries as we have done. Our restriction on filming and photography without permission serves our library purposes, which include ensuring the rights of our users as they use our libraries to acquire knowledge and information, such as through reading, writing, study, discussion with others, and contemplation, freely and confidentially, and without scrutiny, intimidation, and distraction by others. We apply this restriction with attention to our users’ rights, and allow filming and photography of our users only in limited circumstances. I should note that, consistent with the policies of other public libraries, we do sometimes film library initiated programming and to take photos for library promotional purposes.
Regarding this event, it was organized by Unite Colorado Springs and was initially an event that did not require registration. As we understand, this group later posted a request for people to register online, and they did turn people away that day if they had not registered in advance (Mr. Ridley had not registered). Mr. Ridley did not request permission in advance to film the event in accord with our policy. When he was approached by our security staff, they attempted to help him obtain permission. They contacted our Community Engagement and Outreach Office (CEOO) to see if they could obtain permission for him to film. Unfortunately, they were unable to reach CEOO. They then contacted their supervisor who denied permission because the appropriate staff for processing the request were not available on such short notice.
There were apparently additional people who were recording the event, but we were unaware at the time that they were doing so, and they did not obtain permission. This is an area where we intend to clarify our policy and expect we will address our restriction on filming and photography in our meeting room procedures and instructions, so that groups using our facilities are aware of the policy. We expect all users of the library, including meeting room users, to abide by our ground rules concerning filming and photography. You are correct that there are videos posted online of events that have happened in our facilities, and many of these videos are ones which our staff have posted for promotional purposes or in connection with a library sponsored event. We do realize that we need to develop more robust procedures for meetings conducted by outside individuals and groups and for informing participants in non-library sponsored events of our policy.
I have learned that the Privacy Violation filed with YouTube was filed by one of our staff members who appears on the video. As the person who made the video in the library and posted it online did not have permission from PPLD to be filming within the library, this staff member feels that her privacy was violated with the posting of that video.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Pikes Peak Library District
20 N Cascade Ave.
Colorado Springs, CO 80903