by Jack Minor
Following 9/11, a disturbing trend has emerged. Ctizens are being arrested for videotaping police officers during routine traffic stops and other incidents.
Carlos Miller, a Miami multimedia journalist, told the Gazette that, in the age of cell phone cameras, authorities are having a difficult time adjusting to the new technology. Miller’s blog, Photography is Not a Crime, lists several instances of private citizens being arrested for simply taking a picture or videotaping police and other authorities.
Miller has been arrested twice for photographing police. He won one case on appeal and the other was dismissed when the officer failed to show up in court.
In Rochester, New York police arrested Emily Good who, while standing in her yard, videotaped the officers who told her to move inside her house.
Good replied, “This is my front yard. I’m just recording what you’re doing. It’s my right.” After telling her he didn’t feel safe with her standing there, an officer eventually arrested her. The woman was led away sobbing.
Several days later, the charges against Good were dismissed. The District Attorney said, based on a review of the evidence, there was no legal basis to go on.
On June 16, military police threatened to confiscate the camera of a wedding photographer. Michael Conner, who had worked as a photojournalist for the Washington Times, was confronted for taking pictures near the Marine Corps War Memorial. Conner had just taken a photograph of the bride and bridesmaids when MP’s attempted to confiscate the camera because there happened to be a military checkpoint in the area.
Conner told the Gazette the MP’s approached the wedding party and told him they wanted to confiscate the camera. He said the MP’s did not ask to look at his pictures or even what he was taking pictures of.
Mickey Osterreicher, an attorney for the National Press Photographers Association, said that, while federal law does ban photographing “certain vital military and naval installations” the law only applies to top secret, secret, confidential or restricted installations.
The policy has been extended to public meetings as well. June 22, two reporters were led away in handcuffs after videotaping a meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
The Washington Post reported that Peter Tucker of thefightback.org and Jim Epstein from Reason TV were detained after commission interim chairman, Den Reed, asked for Tucker to be removed.
Following the detention, approximately 30 taxi drivers walked out in protest. Driver Negede Abede said Tucker “did nothing. He never disturbed the meeting.” The two were charged with disorderly and unlawful entry.
Last year Anthony Graber, a staff sergeant for the Maryland National Guard, was arrested for using a helmet camera to videotape his encounter with a state trooper.
The video showed the officer cutting him off in an unmarked vehicle after he was speeding on Interstate 95 in Maryland. The plainclothes officer then approached Graber, while brandishing a gun prior to identifying himself as a state trooper.
Afterthe video was posted on YouTube, police charged Graber with violating wiretapping statutes and confiscated his computer. A judge eventually dismissed the charge saying the law allowed audio recording in areas where privacy cannot be expected.
Miller said in most cases, the police know the charges will not stand up in court. “They rely on the intimidation factor, and if that doesn’t work they can force you to spend a night in jail, even though the charges will later be dismissed.”
He went on to say the current trend is to seize the camera as evidence. “They only have the right to confiscate it if it is used in the commission of a crime.” Miller said.
Greeley Police Chief, Jerry Garner, said that the city does not have any type of law prohibiting taping of police officers.
Garner said he was amazed at how a lawful act such as videotaping could be considered illegal. Garner went on to say that he tells young officers to, “Do your job so that if you were being taped and the tape was shown to your loved ones you would never be ashamed.”
Colorado, including Greeley,has laws that prohibit a person from physically obstructing or interfering with officers in the performance of their duties. However, Garner says simply taping an officer does not constitute interference.
Garner did say that officers, like the public in general, could be uncomfortable with being videotaped and curious about the reason why. “A person who is obviously videotaping a Greeley officer should probably expect to be asked what he is doing, but there is no law that prevents them from doing it.”
Evans Police Chief, Rick Brandt, echoed Garner’s sentiments, saying, “Officers have occasionally expressed concerns about this. I have always told them the individuals taping them are not breaking any laws.”