Civil Liberties

Cops Detain Photographer Until They Realize the Incident Is Being Recorded

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No, this isn't a photo shoot for Men's Combat Wear Daily.

When it comes to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, this is not Shawn Nee's first rodeo. The Los Angeles Times reports that he is one of three photographers, along with the National Press Photographers Association, represented by the ACLU of Southern California in a lawsuit against the department over the detention and harassment of people taking pictures in public places. Now he has yet another opportunity to let deputies make themselves look foolish, having recorded an incident in which he was detained, accused of a shifting litany of crimes, and released only after officers discovered his camera was recording the encounter.

In an earlier incident, says the Times of the West:

Professional photographer Shawn Nee was detained and searched Oct. 31, 2009, for shooting images at newly installed turnstiles at the Metro Red Line's Hollywood and Western station. Nee told the deputy he was not doing anything illegal, but the deputy said the station was a terrorist target and that it was against Metropolitan Transportation Authority rules to take pictures there.

A video shows Deputy Richard Gylfie telling Nee: "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."

The deputy pushed Nee against a wall and lectured him about terrorism, the lawsuit alleges. He also told Nee that his name could be added to an FBI "hit list."

This time, in February 2012, Nee captures two deputies chatting up a couple of girls along Hollywood Boulevard. Perhaps having acquired a little hard-won cynicism from his earlier experiences, he had a camera clipped to his camera bag capturing video and audio independently of the device in his hand. That backup camera recorded the officers first ordering him to stop filming them. When he calmly declines, they switch tracks, telling him the girls they's talking to are minors and that he's being detained "because you're taking pictures of minors."

After that, in this game of legal multiple-choice, his crime becomes "you're supposed to carry ID at all times" — not true, in California, although police have been known to insist otherwise.

Anyway, Nee ends up in the back of a squad car as the deputies first describe him as a "retard," and then discuss taking and running his fingerprints — just moments before discovering his recording device clipped to the bag.

Asks a deputy, "it's like, recording or what?"

Why, yes. Yes it is. And off Nee goes, free after being held for 25 minutes.

Interestingly, Carlos Miller of Photography Is Not a Crime reports that Nee's backup camera was a Vievu. That's a wearable camera developed for law-enforcement agencies that "utilizes a Digital Signature process that marks each video with a digital hash certificate to prove that the video has not been altered. The Digital Signature process is FIPS 140-2 compliant. VidLock security prevents unauthorized access if the camera is lost or stolen."

Hmmm … Sounds handy, and unerasable.

Incidentally, Reason has thoroughly covered the thin blue line's war on cameras in a cover story as well as the video below. We've also offered guidance on technology that can ease the process of recording the police.

Update: And, of course, "7 Rules for Recording the Police."