War on Cameras

Dallas Photographer Busted for Taking Pictures in Public Files First Amendment Suit

"There is freedom of the press," observed a puzzled paramedic who witnessed the arrest.


Dallas County Sheriff's Department

Avi Adelman, a freelance photographer in Dallas, was taking pictures at a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) station last February when Stephanie Branch, a DART police officer, decided to arrest him for doing his job. The incident, described in a federal lawsuit that Adelman filed this month, shows how the First Amendment right to record images in public places can be both widely recognized and routinely violated.

Listening to his police scanner on the evening of February 9, Adelman heard a report of an overdose involving the synthetic marijuana substitute known as K2 at DART's Rosa Parks Plaza station and headed there, thinking the incident might be newsworthy. When Adelman arrived at the station, he saw Dallas Fire/Rescue (DFR) paramedics attending to a man lying on the ground and began to photograph the scene. Branch approached him and ordered him to stop taking pictures. Adelman noted that he had a constitutional right to photograph public events as long as he did not interfere with police or other emergency responders. Branch then demanded that he leave the area, and when he refused she grabbed him and handcuffed him.

While this was going on, a DART recorder captured revealing remarks by two paramedics and Elmar Lee Cannon, one of Branch's fellow DART officers:

First Paramedic: He was just taking pictures, right?

Cannon: Yeah. That's why I don't know why she's giving him a hard time.

First Paramedic: Why is she going crazy?

Cannon: I don't know. That's going to be on her. He can take all the pictures he wants. That's why I'm not getting involved in that…

First Paramedic: He knows he wasn't doing nothing wrong, so…

Cannon: I don't know why she's giving him a hard time…I don't know why she…There was no need for that.

Second Paramedic: Yeah. I don't know where that idea came from…because there is freedom of the press.

Branch nevertheless arrested Adelman for trespassing, and he spent the night in jail before posting a bond the next morning. Even though Branch was clearly in the wrong, as her colleague and the paramedics recognized, DART initially defended her. The day after the arrest, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons told the Dallas Observer's Eric Nicholson the agency had "reviewed the exchange and believes the officers acted appropriately." According to Lyons, "Dallas Fire-Rescue asked [Adelman] to move. He refused. Paramedics asked us to ask him to move several times. He failed to comply and that's why he was arrested."

That was not true, as became clear a few days later, when DFR spokesman Jason Evans contradicted DART's account. "At no point were any requests made to ask Mr. Adelman to leave the scene and/or stop taking pictures," Evans said. "In addition, there were no requests made to [DART] officers to ask him to leave the scene and/or stop taking pictures."

A few days after Branch's lie was revealed, DART informed Adelman that the charge against him had been dropped because the arrest was "not consistent with DART Police policies and directives." The agency launched an internal investigation of the incident, which concluded that Branch "did not establish Probable Cause to effect the arrest," since Adelman was "simply taking photographs of a person in a public place." The report from the DART Police Office of Professional Standards (OPS), which DART released six months after the arrest, noted that "Adelman was not breaking any laws," that surveillance video showed he was never less than 10 feet from "the actual medical scene" (vs. the "3 or 6 feet" that Branch claimed), and that the paramedics and the two other DART officers at the scene "did not witness Adelman ever interfere with medical treatment or medical personnel."

OPS found that Branch initially approached Adelman based on her "mistaken belief" that photographing the overdose victim was illegal under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Adelman says he told her that HIPAA's privacy provisions do not prohibit photographs of medical treatment in a public place, but that did not placate her. OPS found that Branch's report on the incident included "various inconsistent, unverifiable or uncorroborated statements," including the whopper about the paramedics' supposed request that Adelman move back. In addition to DFR's unambiguous denial of Branch's account, OPS noted that no such request or complaint can be heard in any of the audio recorded at the scene. OPS identified more than 20 statements in Branch's report that were "not accurate." The report concluded that in arresting Adelman without probable cause, Branch violated DART policy and "engage[d] in conduct which was illegal or could reflect negatively on DART."

Adelman says DART never apologized to him for his false arrest and "refused even to discuss a resolution of this matter." He does not know whether Branch faced any disciplinary action, and he is concerned that DART's police force does not properly train its officers to respect First Amendment rights. OPS said Branch violated "DART's Photography Policy," which says "persons may take photographic or video images" as long as they do not "interfere with public safety activity." But Branch said she had never seen that policy. Furthermore, Adelman says, another DART policy could be interpreted as authorizing arrests of people taking pictures in the DART system. That policy says a criminal trespass charge is appropriate when a "person is on DART's property for purposes other than to utilize public transportation services."

Adelman, an activist and blogger who developed a "Right to Photograph and Record in Public" program for police officers, argues that DART's trespass policy "is unconstitutional because it permits DART police officers to arrest individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights at DART transit centers." In the first seven months of this year, he notes, "DART made 254 arrests for criminal trespass" and "presumably issued numerous additional criminal trespass warnings pursuant to its policy." He says the conflict between the trespass policy and the photography policy is apparent from the fact that a DART sergeant approved his arrest and a DART spokesman defended it. The sergeant, Homer Hutchins, told OPS he approved the arrest based on Branch's (false) report that Adelman was "getting in between the paramedics" and "preventing them from doing their job." The spokesman, Lyons, likewise relied on Branch's self-serving, inaccurate account.

In addition to unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the violation of his constitutional rights, Adelman is seeking an injunction prohibiting DART from "arresting, detaining, warning, obstructing, or otherwise interfering with journalists and members of the public who are engaged in photographing or recording police or medical personnel at DART stations and transit centers." He also wants DART to "develop and implement comprehensive and effective policies to protect the First Amendment rights of the public and the press to observe, photograph, and record police or medical personnel on DART property, including appropriate training for DART police officers and supervisors and appropriate discipline for those who violate the policy."

NEXT: Friday Funnies: Obama's Message for Black Americans

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Hide the Pain Harold

    1. My best friend’s sister makes $89 an hour on the internet . She has been out of a job for six months but last month her check was $14750 just working on the internet for a few hours. Go this website and click tech tab to start your work… Now this website… http://goo.gl/bvaZx7

  2. According to Lyons, “Dallas Fire-Rescue asked [Adelman] to move. He refused. Paramedics asked us to ask him to move several times. He failed to comply and that’s why he was arrested.”

    That was not true, as became clear a few days later, when DFR spokesman Jason Evans contradicted DART’s account.

    Yet another of countless examples of public officials blatantly lying to the public. But when I don’t instantly trust every word that comes out of some government spokesman’s mouth, I’m a “kook” and a “conspiracy theorist”.

  3. Well, in the arresting officer’s defense, he *was* wearing a hoodie.

    1. True, but that means he could have been Obama’s son.

  4. So, Officer Cannon witnessed an illegal act (the arrest), yet did nothing to stop it. And I’m guessing we’re supposed to believe he’s one of the good cops that we hear so much about.

    1. What he should have done was call a supervisor to the scene.

      1. Or at least texted his union rep.

      2. Since the supervisor ratified the arrest, that would have made no difference.

        And why wasn’t said supervisor named as a party-at-interest?

    2. Cops never stop other cops. It’s one of the rules. They do whatever they want and let is get sorted out later. It’s not like they face any consequences for their actions. And any cop who stops another cop for committing an illegal act is going to find themselves listening to crickets whenever they need backup. That is why there are no good cops.

      1. That’s the problem.

        If the other cop had intervened he’d ‘have made them look bad in front of their subordinates’. They consider a united front as the only way to deal with the public.

        That shit works in the military because you don’t want to undermine your subordinates authority in front of *his* subordinates – its doesn’t stand up so well when used by a rando cop in front of a rando civilian.

        1. What he should have done is called her aside and told her to sit in the car for a bit or something.

    3. THIS.

      Most of this is standard, boilerplate abuse by law enforcement. The interesting thing is the cop who is busted admitting that the other cop was wrongfully arresting someone and still doing nothing.

      I predict that DART Police will take immediate action. Sadly, that probably means a promotion for not ratting out his coworker and a friendly reminder about how to disable his recording device.

    1. Two people not named and reportedly from Holland…who have never seen buses before. They don’t have buses in Holland? Bullshit.

      I am guessing these people are of ME origin and that is what freaked everyone out. The article takes great pain to avoid mentioning that.

      1. Might mean yellow school buses. I could believe that. I was in Japan in the navy and saw lots of things that didn’t exist in the US, including different kinds of buses.

      2. They may very well not have school busses in Holland. Especially not in urban areas: the country is bicycle crazy. I have seen with mine own eyes, five-story parking garages full of bicycles. Packed out. Plus trams and trains running everywhere, and friendly people actually believing that an 8 year old kid could find his/her way home, the same way they have every day for years.

        If anything, they were probably taking pictures to show their friends at home how in the US, they need special busses to haul the children to and from school, on account of the middles schoolers weighing an average of 200 pounds (14 stone (3.6 avoirdupois hectares)).

        1. They use the metric system in Holland. They wouldn’t know what the fuck an avoirdupois was.

      3. I bet they aren’t. I bet they’re a couple of tourists and everyone is simply freaking out because they’re taking pictures and “nobody takes pictures of ‘infrastructure’ except terrorists” and/or “nobody takes pictures of kids except pedophiles”.

    2. Superintendent Angelina Maloney says the “see something, say something” motto is working.

      Kill me now.

  5. That’s going to be on her. He can take all the pictures he wants. That’s why I’m not getting involved in that…

    I’m guessing a certain lady officer isn’t well liked.

    1. Paramedics tend to despise cops.

      1. Yeah but that was a fellow cop speaking.

        1. So it was. I didn’t catch that. Well he can’t interfere. The only thing worse than a cop committing an illegal act is a cop stopping a fellow cop from committing an illegal act. That will get them fired real quick.

          1. Cops that interfere with other cops when they’re in the wrong are known as troublemakers and it’s a career killer.

  6. In the security training I have to take for my work, we are told to watch for people taking pictures of or near public buildings. You see, terrorists like to case out places that they plan to attack. They watch the exits to look for shift changes, and for people who are stupid enough to hold the door for people. That’s how they get in. They pretend to be an employee and find some sap who will hold the door for them. That way they avoid security. Then when they get in they steal stuff or plant a bomb or kill someone or whatever. And it all starts with pictures. That’s why anyone taking pictures needs to be confronted by the police and stopped. Doesn’t matter if what they are doing is legal or not. Terrorism trumps that. Guilty until proven innocent. That’s how you stop the terrorists.

    1. Post-9/11 America, fuck yeah! [sob]

    2. Curse all those Japanese Terrorists I see roaming my city!

    3. So every tourist with a camera in Washington DC should end up in jail.

      Feature, not bug.

      1. Maybe not end up in jail, but be reported to the police by eagle eyed government employees and contractors.

        I remember reading some story about certain government buildings where if you take pictures someone will come and make you delete them and tell you to move along.

    4. Doesn’t matter if what they are doing is legal or not. Terrorism trumps that. Guilty until proven innocent. That’s how you stop the terrorists.

      It’s a tribute to how idiotic people who think this way are, that I honestly cannot tell if this is supposed to be sarcasm. Poe’s Law strikes again.

    5. A real terrorist would take digital video with a body camera that you can’t easily see.

      1. Like that terrorist James O’Keefe.

    6. Who is this “they” you are referring to? Cause in the 15 years since 9/11, what you’re describing has happened maybe exactly never.

      Some rentacop tried to stop me from taking photos of a grocery store in Louisiana. I asked him why, he said “9/11”, as if it has anything to with some podunk store in the middle of nowhere. All of that imagery is available in satellite photographs and street view already. Using an iphone is quick and almost undetectable. So stopping guys with expensive cameras who aren’t trying to use them covertly is absurd.

      THINK, people. Don’t let yourselves be brainwashed.

      1. Thinking is hard!

  7. The best way to get stuff like this to stop is to hurt their budgets. Of course it hurts the taxpayers’ budgets but, on the whole, I hope the guy gets paid.

    1. Better yet, hold the cops individually and personally responsible. If they got bad training, put the onus on them to finger that bad training and hold the department responsible.

      1. Just as I hit SUBMIT, it occurred to me that holding cops personally responsible might be one way to break the mentality whereby any cop is considered bad news for telling another cop to stop behaving illegally. That might actually be treated as helping other cops avoid lawsuits and huge debts. Instead of not backing up uncollegial cops, they would simply let them do stupid things and get sued into oblivion and off the force.

      2. Or take a queue from the private sector and bake it into the management incentive plan. If the chief and chief’s direct reports are rewarded for running a clean department, you can bet their going to run a clean department. Is the blue wall of silence more powerful than that new car or house remodel? I’d bet more than a few police chiefs would willingly throw a couple officers in front of the bus to protect their paychecks, and the best part is, nobody can object to providing incentives to running a clean department.

        1. Excellent thought. Well said sir.

        2. Excellent thought. Well said sir.

        3. Another idea is to make the wrongful death settlements come out of the police pension fund instead of the general fund. If police know that unrestrained violence will cost them financially, they’ll clean up their own ranks REAL fast.

        4. @ thom

          “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

          Wall Street – 1987

          $1000 bonus for an officer who documents stopping a fellow officer from violating a persons civil rights. And a 3 strikes law for those that get stopped.

  8. Most of us around here know Adelman as an activist who opposes all development all the time here in the city center. He goes by The Barking Dog.

    1. He might be a bit of a cunt but he shouldn’t have been arrested for this.

      1. He should not have, especially since getting payouts seems to be his profession.

        1. I was thinking that too, but DART officers in general seem a lot more high strung that your average DPD officer. I don’t think I’ve had a bad expierence with DPD since I moved to Dallas two years ago, although I can’t necessarily say the same thing about the State Troopers on the North Tollway.

          The fact she thought someone lying in the street would somehow be covered by HIPPA is pretty amusing though, especially when they broadcast his ailment over publically accessible radio. Oops!

          Knowing Dallas, I wouldn’t be surprised if this officer won’t be with the City much longer now that she’s cost them face and dollars.

          1. I doubt it. She’ll be sent over to some high school to be the “school resource officer.” That seems to be where they send all the fuckups now that there isn’t a Vice Squad.

  9. One nit pick,it’s not just the ‘press’ that has the rights mentioned here ,but,every person in this country.. At times it seems the ‘press’ believe the 1st bestows some rights to them only.

    1. Or, everyone in the country has the right to freedom of the press. Which means they have the right to collect and disseminate (or not), by whatever means, information. I prefer to look at it that way.

    2. Cameras didn’t exist in 1789. By your logic AR-15s are protected by the Second Amendment.

  10. Excuse me while I make some sexist speculation.

    It seems like a lot of female cops feel the need to act extra aggressive and tough to prove to their colleagues and the public that their femaleness doesn’t interfere with their cop-ness.
    A lot of cops can be quite amiable in my (very limited, thankfully) experience. But I’ve never encountered a female cop who didn’t seem to be trying extra hard to be all tough and serious.

    1. You are 100% correct Zeb.

    2. The only warning (as opposed to acual ticket) I ever got for speeding was from a woman cop. Cool as a cucumber, asked what I was doing, I told her, she cautioned me, and that was it.

    3. I’ve observed that to be the case with female correctional officers as well.

  11. OPS found that Branch initially approached Adelman based on her “mistaken belief” that photographing the overdose victim was illegal under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

    +1 Reasonable Mistake

  12. And nothing else happened.


  13. Where did the cops get that picture of the guy they arrested for taking photographs in public without permission? Did he sign a release giving them permisssion to take his picture and release it to the public? Or do cops believe they have some sort of “right” or “public interest” exemption to this rule that you don’t have a right to take pictures? They’ve also apparently released all kinds of other information about the incident whereas I’m sure if it were a cop being arrested you wouldn’t even be able to get them to confirm that a cop was arrested let alone any details like his name or what he was arrested for – to protect the privacy and due process rights and presumption of innocence of the alleged arrestee, of course.

    (Possibly related – the lady cop in Tulsa who defended her shoot by saying she believed the guy might be a threat. You try shooting somebody and defending your actions by saying you didn’t know the guy wasn’t a threat – i.e., openly admit that you didn’t have any clear evidence that the guy was a threat – and see how far that defense will get you. “Hey, the guy might have had something in his hands that I couldn’t tell what it was so I had to shoot him” only passes the laugh test for cops, you ain’t getting away with plugging the pizza delivery guy with that one.)

    1. They have the right to FYTW.

    2. They just used a stock photo of Bill Murray.

    3. This case was about not obeying, not about the right to take pictures in public. They didn’t charge him with taking pictures of people without their permission. Because apparently a public place becomes restricted access whenever a cop decides it does.

    1. Wrong thread…

  14. That was not true, as became clear a few days later, when DFR spokesman Jason Evans contradicted DART’s account. “At no point were any requests made to ask Mr. Adelman to leave the scene and/or stop taking pictures,” Evans said. “In addition, there were no requests made to [DART] officers to ask him to leave the scene and/or stop taking pictures.”

    :::gropes::: Shocked to find he has run out of :::SHOCKED::: faces.

  15. “Second Paramedic: Yeah. I don’t know where that idea came from…because there is freedom of the press.”

    There’s something good about that statement, but the implications can be easily misinterpreted.

    Freedom of the press means we’re free to take pictures in public places and publish them.

    It doesn’t mean that anyone is given special privileges because they’re professional journalists.

    In addition to whatever else it means, “freedom of the press” means anybody can take pictures in public places.

  16. With this story and the Dallas shooting by a female cop has me suspecting that the “Blue Wall” does not extend to cover female cops, or is maybe made of papier mach? in their section. I can’t say for sure, but in both instances, it doesn’t seem to me they got the typical backup or cover, but more or less got thrown under the bus.

  17. We should care about photography permit laws. Here some resources may help you to find them.

  18. I really enjoyed your blog Thanks for sharing such an informative post.

    remove background color

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.