Monday, March 10, 2014

Some Police Still Won't Allow Themselves to be Photographed

A Baltimore City police officer "forcibly escorted" Baltimore Sun photographer Chris Assaf away from the scene of a police involved shooting after he was observed photographing police activities.  The incident was documented by another Baltimore Sun reporter, and the Sun has posted photos of the incident online (the Sun warns that some photos may be graphic).

The Sun noted how they had reported on previous incidents where first amendment rights had been infringed on with respect to photographing police:
A recent event brought this close to home when Baltimore Sun photo editor Chris Assaf was confronted by a Baltimore City police officer at the scene of a police-involved shooting. The incident happened in close proximity to The Sun at the intersection of Centre Street and Guilford Avenue, so Assaf was able to respond quickly to the scene.
While photographing outside the police tape — which marked the established perimeter — an officer broke the tape and told him he would have to move across the street. Assaf protested, stating he was outside the established perimeter of the crime scene and he had every right to photograph from where he was standing.
While asking for the officer’s name, a second police officer grabbed Assaf and began pushing him across the street. Assaf on numerous occasions requested that the officer release him, saying that his rights were being violated. Baltimore Sun photographer Lloyd Fox witnessed and documented the scene. Baltimore Police said they are investigating the allegations.
It is in fact completely legal to photograph police activities in public.  Despite this, there have been several other documented incidents in recent years where police have claimed it was illegal for members of the public to photograph them. The Sun noted a prior incident demonstrating the misconception by police that it is illegal to photograph police activities.
Just recently Sergio Gutierrez was recording Maryland State Police making arrests outside a Towson bar. With the video camera rolling, an officer approached him and told him to stop because he was distracting them. When Gutierrez asked what law he was violating, an officer gets up close and tells him to “shut your [expletive] mouth or you’re going to jail.” 
Gutierrez responded, “I thought I have freedom of speech.” The officer responded, “You just lost it,” as the camera is jostled and the person recording says he is being pushed. 
Other similar incidents in recent years have included:
- in June of 2011, photo journalist Manning Garcia of Kensington was arrested and charged with "disorderly conduct" for taking a video of Montgomery County police who were making an arrest.
- In 2010, Christopher Sharp had his cell phone confiscated after filming police arresting and allegedly beating woman during an altercation at Preakness. Sharp, represented by the ACLU, filed suit against the Baltimore Police Department.
- in June 2010 a motorist was arrested and had her cell phone confiscated by St Mary's County police for photographing police, an was charge under Maryland's wire tapping law
- in March of 2010, a motorcyclist was charged under Maryland wire tapping laws for photographing a police officer making a traffic stop with a helmet mounted camera and posting the video on YouTube

Last year police in Maryland photographed millions of motorists for the purpose of issuing photo tickets, asserting that motorists have "no expectation of privacy".