Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse, Unless You're in Law Enforcement


Part of a recurring theme. In addition to my prior post today, here's a roundup of other photography/video stories in the news of late:

  • Earlier this month, Carlos Miller—who runs the Photography Is Not a Crime blog—was "banned" from Miami's Metrorail system after guards from the firm hired to provide security for the system, and then Miami police officers, wrongly told him he wasn't permitted to shoot video at the train station. Miller returned this week with his camera and a crew from HDNet TV. Things got violent.
  • The Washington Post catalogs a number of incidents in which police have arrested, harassed or detained photographers and cell phone videographers in jurisdictions where the law is quite clear on their right to record and photograph in public.
  • The New York Times photography blogger David Dunlap documents another incident.
  • Also from the Times, an incident in which a photographer was wrongly stopped by police from taking pictures at an Amtrak station. He was shooting for a photography contest sponsored by Amtrak.

The common thread in all of these stories is that the police were wrong on the law, and the photographers were right. If the photographers had been mistaken, they could be arrested and charged. Not knowing the law isn't an excuse for breaking it. But when law enforcement officials don't know the law, and wrongly prevent someone from photographing or recording, or even illegally detain and arrest someone, it's a shrug and a sigh and we all move on.


NEXT: I'm Pretty Sure There Isn't an Ap for That

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  1. But when law enforcement officials don’t know the law

    They know it. They’re betting that we don’t, and they usually bet right.

    The first politician who proposes a law creating penalties for LEOs who wrongly arrest people for this (or anything) gets my admiration. Since it’ll never happen, I’m pretty safe from having to admire a politician.

    1. There are already laws against false arrest. On the other hand case law has affirmed that cops ARE ALLOWED TO LIE! A cop can tell you any kind of fanciful story they want. Just don’t lie to then or you go to jail.

    2. Civil lawsuits are one rememdy, but I suppose if you plead guilty after three days in jail, just to get out, then you’ve hurt your case.

  2. In edition to my prior post today,…

    812–Homophone error

    1. Fixed. Thanks for pointing that out.

      1. Are you homophonebic?

    2. Boy, you’re quick on the editing.

  3. How does my boot taste, civilian?

  4. Why don’t the police seem to have any respect for citizens anymore?

    Why is it that ever little argument with the police seems to end with either the threat of arrest, an arrest for resisting arrest, or a tazer?

    Seriously, when did it all change? I remember a time when Police actually used arrest as a last resort, and even if someone was acting like an ass (not violent, just being a jerk) they normally couldn’t be arrested.

    I feel like we are losing our country

    1. I’m not really sure that much has changed. It just that now we actually hear about it.

      Still no excuse for not terminating the cops who do this more than once and their whole chain of command.

      1. No, things really have changed. This kind of thing used to happen all the time, but only to dark-skinned people. Now the cops do it to honkies too. When you stop and think about it, since there’s less racial discrimination, things have actually gotten better.

  5. From the washing Post story:

    ‘Second District Cmdr. Matthew Klein said there is no official prohibition against photographing the interior of a squad car. But he said officers acted appropriately because they thought Vorus was escalating the situation.

    “They had a situation developing,” Klein said. “They had to make a call.”‘

    The Police saw Vorus and used him as an excuse to escalte the situation. But you are either wiff duh Police or again’em

    1. “Situation developing” = citizen refusing to behave like a subject

      1. I’ve seen the phrase “controlling the situation” used more frequently lately. It’s apparently the new go-to excuse for cops acting like dickholes outside of their authority.

  6. Seems to me that unauthorized blogging about police is worse than unauthorized filming.

  7. http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/…..tml?hpt=C1

    Finally, a prosecution of a policeman for perjury that got an innocent person convicted. It begs the question why the prosecutors (who are now judges…hmmm, the old robe club???)
    You know, if there was any desire for justice, or for quality, in our judicial system, every incident where there is a proven case of a wrongful conviction should be investigated as to WHY and HOW that happened.
    O yeah, I’m just a goofy guy who things there should be some correlation between legal outcomes and justice…very, very foolish of me.

  8. These stories make me want to carry a camera with me everywhere and start taking pictures of people and buildings and stuff just to see what happens.

    1. I remember you making the same comment last article on camera crimes. Have I officially entered groundhog day? Is my video footage deleted at the end of each fake day? Is that a violation of the first amendment or just of the space-time continuum?

      1. Did I say that?

        Well I still feel that way. I had to say it again in case anyone missed it.

  9. The state really doesn’t want people to know what it’s doing, does it?

  10. Ignorance of the law is promoted within the LEO community. I’d love to have a dollar for everytime I’ve heard, or read, “we need cops not lawyers” when addressing this issue.

  11. That video of Carlos Miller getting punched is definitely worth watching. I really hope he sues the security company and county.

  12. “Photographers say police need to be told explicitly not to prohibit photography, because officers often don’t respond well to impromptu citizen lectures on constitutional law.

    The understatement of the century.

  13. Do you get it, they are trying to prevent terrorist from having recon photos of possible targets. 😉

    The knee is still jerking.

  14. I’d like to build a donut gun but I don’t have enough dough.

  15. The common thread in all of these stories is that the police were

    asserting their baboon troop dominance.

  16. As I was following the links, I noticed that I was getting angrier and angrier and that my heartbeat and breathing rate were increasing. “Wait a minute,” I said, let’s see whose by-line is on this story. Just as I expected, it was Balko again.

    1. Huh. My physical symptoms are usually more of an intense pain in the groinular region.

      1. Yeah, my left nut was finally descending back into the sack after Radley’s last story, and then WHAM! He hammers them right back up into the abdomen again.

      2. Balko posts should come with a Surgeon General warning. I can feel my blood pressure rising once I see his name in the by-line and I haven’t even watched the video yet, which I doubt will do anything to rectify this.

        I mean, thank god he’s reporting this stuff but IT MAKES ME SOOOOOOO ANGRY.

  17. What’s needed is a foundation set up to litigate every last one of these cases, and also to troll for plaintiffs like personal injury lawyers would.

    Fund the foundation using proceeds from settlements.

    Once it gets a little momentum it would snowball. Instead of people going into supermarkets and pretending to slip, they would go out and take pictures of cops and wait to get hit. It would be awesome.

    1. I like it. Your foundation is basically a predator that feeds on stupid cops.

      1. Your foundation is basically a predator that feeds on stupid cops who are merely “following departmental procedure” for their own safety.

        1. “following departmental procedure”

          Godwin! Godwiiiinnnn!

  18. I don’t know if this has been suggested, but they need to organize a hundred or so people with cameras to enter the Miami Metrorail together and start recording. Do this for a few days until the rent-a-cops become trained to ignore the legal behavior.

  19. Oh It can and does get worse…


    “Insulting a police officer” WTF is that

  20. I am reminded of the immortal words of Clint Eastwood when playing a cop [duh] and challenged on his author-ah-tie.

    “This badge, this gun and the love of Jesus in my pretty green eyes.”

  21. The law means just exactly what those charged with enforcing it say it means – nothing more or less. You need to stop kidding yourself about the rule of law thing in this country. It has always been nearly meaningless. The hysteria over cops/authorities abusing the law is idiotic. That is what authorities do and always have done. Anyone who is surprised by this is an idiot. The only reason it has not impacted any one of us personally or directly is that we have been fortunate enough not to get between the authorities and what they want.

  22. They know it. They’re betting that we don’t, and they usually bet right.

    Worse than that — they know it and don’t give a damn if we know it or not because there’s no down side if they confiscate cameras, erase photos, and arrest people illegally. Worst case (for the cop) no charges will be filed, but the punishment for defying the cops authority will have been meted out already just by the cost and humiliation of being handcuffed, hauled off to jail, having to hire a lawyer, etc.

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