Friday, January 27, 2012

Photographing Cops in Maryland a Risky Proposition

Police departments in Maryland can photograph motorists with impunity.  But as one photo journalist learned, police in Montgomery County have a serious double standard when it comes to citizens photographing cops. 

Photo Journalist Mannie Garcia of Kensington shot a video of Montgomery County Police on June 16, 2011 making an arrest.  According to Garcia's account ""When an officer came up to me, I let the camera go, I opened up my hands, and I said, 'I'm Mannie Garcia, and I'm with the press.' Then two things happened at about the same time: he grabbed me by the neck and says, 'That's it, you're under arrest'; and he pulled my arm behind me, put me in a choke hold, and started dragging me across the street."

Police charged him with "disorderly conduct".  The account in the police report differs wildly from that of the reporter.  Garcia lost his white house press credentials due to the charges, which need to be renewed every year.  He was eventually acquitted of all charges against him in December, and stated that he might seek a civil rights suit against the county.  The card containing the video he was taking the video was never returned.   Garcia claims the incident is an example of a "catch and release" policy used by police to stop photographing off arrests by journalists by charging with offenses such as trespassing, resisting arrest, or disorderly conduct.

In 2010, two citizens were charged under Maryland wiretapping laws for filming police officers. An attorney general's opinion was issued that filming police is not illegal.  No worries though, plenty of other charges they can make up.  Meanwhile, surveillance of Maryland drivers by police continues to expand with no end in sight.