Shawn Nee, a street and documentary photographer in Hollywood, California, is alleging in a lawsuit filed in late 2013 that officers from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) retaliated against him for asserting his constitutional right to take photographs in a public space. Nee was taking photos from a sidewalk approximately 90 feet away from an incident officers were investigating June 2, 2013. Even so, he was detained, cuffed and had his information run by LAPD Officers Mike Foster and Kevin Palmer.
When the officers' supervisor, Sergeant Rudy Vidal, arrived at the location, Foster allegedly told Vidal that Nee was "talking all this nonsense" about his First Amendment rights. After Nee further asserted that he was being detained for taking photos in a public space and invoked his right to remain silent, Vidal ordered Palmer and Foster to take Nee into custody for "interfering." From the lawsuit:
At the Wilcox station, Nee was handcuffed to a bench until he was taken into an interrogation room and questioned by a detective. Nee was in custody for approximately one and one-half hours before he was released with no charges filed. Throughout most of that time, he was handcuffed.
The LAPD said in two responses to the lawsuit filed in Feburary 2014 that the force used against Nee "was caused and necessitated" by his actions, and, "was reasonable and necessary for self defense." Further, the court papers say there was reasonable suspicision to detain Nee and probable cause for his arrest.
Although the LAPD is clear in its policy about the rights of news reporters at crime scenes, saying officers should not prevent the taking of pictures in public spaces (including pictures of police officers), the policy is not clear about the rights of citizen or independent journalists like Nee. The lawsuit says that the fact that the current LAPD policy fails to recognize that the rights of credentialed journalists are no greater than citizens, "encourages the police to mistreat independent journalists and members of the public they encounter."
The incident was caught by Nee on a Vievu body camera, the same camera police officers internationally use in the field so there is a recording after the fact. The practice can protect an officer in a court preceding or if there is an internal affairs investigation. Reason TV initally aired video of Nee's arrest in "Cameras vs. LAPD: Was a Photographer Interfering or Just Taking Pictures."