Taking pictures is not against the law. But if you are searched by the police for using your camera, you may be confused about what it is that you did wrong. The ACLU of Southern California has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for allegedly harassing photographers, using the guise of Homeland Security to detain, search, and otherwise pick on photographers.
According to the LA Times blog, the federal lawsuit says the Sheriff’s Department are singling out photographers under the auspice of Homeland Security, searching and questioning them when they are in public places taking photos of things like “Metro turnstiles, oil refineries, or near a Long Beach courthouse.”
The suit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of three different photographers who had been detained, searched, and ordered to stop photographing on six different occasions.
One of those photographers was taking photos of newly installed turnstiles when he was confronted by a deputy, pushed against a wall and searched. The deputy justified this action by saying “Al Qaeda would love to buy your pictures, so I want to know if you are in cahoots with Al Qaeda to sell these pictures to them for terrorist purposes.”
Another photographer was taking pictures for a story on Distracted Driving Awareness Month when he was surrounded by a group of deputies and frisked. The corner he was shooting on was across the street from the courthouse. He was eventually told the questioning was related to terrorism and Sheriff Lee Baca supported the deputies’ actions.
The third has been detained three times for taking photos of brightly lit oil refineries, once being held in a squad car for more than 45 minutes before being allowed to leave.
Since the tragic events of September 11, police across the country have been trained (though perhaps not to well) on detecting the actions of terrorist groups, in particular those that are scoping out future targets. They justify treating these people as suspects by saying their photographs could be providing intelligence to terrorist organizations. But when it comes down to it, these photographers have done absolutely nothing wrong.
You can’t be arrested for taking photos in public—that is, unless the police have asked you to stop for legitimate legal reasons and you fail to do so. One example could be if your photography puts you in the way of them executing their job to keep the peace. But even if that’s the case, simply stepping back could resolve the issue. In cases like this, when an officer is reaching for a reason to initiate an arrest, you could be charged with disorderly conduct.
Whether you were arrested for taking photos or for disobeying police orders, we may be able to help. Contact our offices today to discuss your case and your rights.