Cameras vs. LAPD: Was A Photographer Interfering or Just Taking Pictures?

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Shawn Nee is an award winning street and documentary photographer living in Hollywood, California. He says that on June 2, 2013, his right to take photos under the First Amendment was violated when the Los Angeles Police Department officers detained him while working in Hollywood. Nee wears multiple body cameras on his person when he shoots photos in public and provided an edited version of June 2nd's events exclusively to Reason TV.

"People have the right to take pictures in a public space and that includes photographing [police]," says Nee. "People have the right to know what goes on in their communities and in public."

Nee was standing on a residential sidewalk taking pictures of a man he had been photographing for years when LAPD officers showed up about 90 feet away to investigate a domestic dispute. Nee took photos of the dispute from behind two chain link fences when he was approached by an officer. The transcript was as follows:

OFFICER: What's your name?

NEE: Am I being detained, sir?

OFFICER: How am I detaining you if I've got a fence between me? You want me to come around and detain you?

NEE: Why would I be detained, sir?

OFFICER: I'm not detaining you, I'm asking you a question. What's your name?

NEE: I'm not required to answer that question, sir.

Reason TV showed the video to Andy Neiman, the officer-in-charge at the Media Relations Section at the LAPD. He said he could not comment on the video specically but said of individuals taking pictures, "If their physical proximity to the investigating officers becomes interfering where an officer has to stop what they're doing to admonish that individual that they're too close or could you stand back because they are distracting from the officer's business, then that's where it becomes an issue."

But Nee says he was so far away from the investigation that the officers had to walk down a 60 yard driveway, enter their squad car, and drive to the location where he was taking photographs around the corner from the initial investigation just to detaine him. This is the conversation that happened once they got there:

OFFICER: Could you put your camera down for me?

NEE: Am I being detained, sir?

OFFICER: Yes.

NEE: For what purpose, sir?

OFFICER: Put your camer down.

NEE: Why am I being detained, sir?

OFFICER: For interviewing … interfering with a police investigation.

NEE: How was I doing that, sir?

Later, a supervisor, identified as Sergent Rudy V. Vidal showed up and interacted with Nee:

NEE: My understanding is that I was detained for taking photos in a public space.

VIDAL: When it interferes with the job of police then it becomes a problem. At that point, you no longer have that freedom to go ahead and take your pictures.

Sergent Vidal was named as a "problem officer" by the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department (Christopher Commission) in the early 1990s, as reported by the Los Angeles Times in 1995. The Commission named 44 officers with "six or more complaints of excessive force or improper tactics between 1986 and 1990."

Nee is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department along with two other photographers and is represented in that case by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Nee has been published by National Public Radio, F8 magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and blogs at boywithagrenade.org.

Produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Detrick and Zach Weissmuller.

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UPDATE: 3:33pm

Nee has posted his version of events captured by his video cameras to his YouTube site:

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56 responses to “Cameras vs. LAPD: Was A Photographer Interfering or Just Taking Pictures?

  1. NEE: Why would I be detained, sir?

    We should all know the answer by now.

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  2. Who the fuck does this peasant think he is? He should know that by wielding a camera against a cop, you might be stealing their soul.

    That’s a killin’ offense.

  3. Never question the King’s Men.

  4. You guys don’t understand. The guy taking photos is interfering with a police investigation no matter where he’s standing. How are the cops going to fabricate a story if someone is standing there photographing their every move?

    You guys really need to develop a little empathy. Fabrication is an important and long established tool of law enforcement. You can’t just suddenly demand that cops give up a valuable technique like that and still expect them to meet their prison system delivery quotas.

    Remember, to a cop, there are two kinds of people: those in prison and those waiting to be sent to prison. If you start questioning that core principle, you need to expect a little push back.

    1. You by any chance an ex-submariner?

      1. Nope. But I was in the Navy for 7 years.

        Are you thinking of someone in particular?

        1. Nope — just that submariners like to say there are two kinds of ships — submarines and targets.

          🙂

          1. Haha!

            One of the submariners I knew way back then jumped down my throat when I referred to subs as ships. He said they are called “boats”. He might have been jerking me around though. He was kinda hard to read.

            1. One of our good friends spent 20 years on subs. He referred to them as boats also.

            2. No, they are boats. They get pretty serial about it …

              Friends had a father who was in the merchant marine (waaay back in the 1950s) on oil tankers. They had a son, who, when he just began talking, once asked during a trip taking grandpa back to his ship, if they were going to grampy’s boat. No, ship, said grandpa. Shit, said the boy. Boat, said grandpa.

            3. Ex-submariner here. Submarines are indeed termed “boats”, all others “ships” (or “skimmers”, or “targets”).

              1. Das Boot!!

              2. “Ex-submariner here. Submarines are indeed termed “boats”, all others “ships” (or “skimmers”, or “targets”).”

                No, they’re called whatever the fuck I want to call them, and your preference is ignored.

    2. It is parallel construction, not fabrication. Also, it is ok and legal because they do it a lot.

      1. I stand corrected. 🙂

  5. Okay, sir. This is to figure out what your aptitude’s good at, and get you a jail job while you’re being a particular individual in jail.

  6. Uhm taking pictures is interfering.

  7. Funny how the government wants to put cameras on every street corner, but when we put cameras on every street corner, the cops get really, really jumpy. What say you, Tulpa?

  8. “If their physical proximity to the investigating officers becomes interfering where an officer has to stop what they’re doing to admonish that individual that they’re too close or could you stand back because they are distracting from the officer’s business, then that’s where it becomes an issue.”

    By that rationale, isn’t it completely subjective, and an officer could prevent somebody from taking pictures simply by talking to them and telling them they’re too close and have to stop?

    Or is that the point?

    1. are you trying to reason with police policy? that’s a felony you know.

  9. Nathan needs to investigate a federal lawsuit for violation of his first amendment rights. With his video, let them prove he was interfering (tough to impossible if he was where he says he was.)

    I had a friend who educated me when you are in situations like this. The first statement to the police should be “I am acting under the authority of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (and in California, there is a similar California constitutional section). Under what authority are you acting under?” That puts them on notice that at least you know your rights. The other thing I would have done, if I were him, is to request that the field officers immediately have their field supervisor (usually a sergeant) show up and have the officers explain to him why they are detaining me.

  10. The police acted illegally. This has already been ruled on by numerous courts and the DOJ.

  11. I get that the job of a police officer is frustrating and hard. What I don’t get is why a society based on capitalism only gives free passes to government employees. I’ve been in the Marine Corps for 17 years and if I violated someone’s right by hazing them I would find myself in front of a general and a dishonarble discharge. If the police can’t figure out the freedom of press thing they should face the same penalty. If the journalist can’t read your name tag then he isn’t in your way.

    1. Why pick on societies based on Capitalism. Exempting ageists of the government from the Law is pretty much business as usual for all governments in all ages. What’s different about or society is that it gets questioned at all.

  12. I’m no fan of the cops because of crap like this even though I know they have a thankless and tough job.

    But this guy seems to want to be arrested from the get go. This seemed to be the equivalent of a celebrity nip slip that has become popular among B and even some A list females for the publicity boost.

    1. Yeah, he wanted to get arrested so badly that he concocted a nefarious scheme whereby he’d go about his business and do absolutely nothing illegal.

    2. What, exactly did he do, and what difference does it make? He tries to get the cops to overplay their hand and succeeds. That is not a crime. He should be commended for that.

    3. I know there’s an ongoing issue with cops harassing people with cameras, and I’m not defending that behavior. But every filmed example I’ve seen has the citizen starting off with being confrontational.

      When the officer walks up and asks his name the officer hasn’t done anything wrong yet either. Why not answer with, “My name is Shawn. What can I do for you officer?”. Why start off with, “Am I being detained?”. Why lead the confrontation? If the officer is going to cross the line let him start it. It doesn’t help the narrative to react this way.

      1. “When the officer walks up and asks his name the officer hasn’t done anything wrong yet ”

        Incorrect, the cop is harassing a citizen who is doing nothing wrong or illegal.

        1. Incorrect, he’s started a conversation. It’s not harassment to ask someone their name.

          If the officer is going to get unreasonable after that, let him. Don’t be the one to assume a confrontation. That’s all I’m saying.

          1. Ninety feet away behind a chain link fence. Who is being the asshole here?

            No, it’s not harassment until the cop starts to act like a fucking prick. It is not a crime to be a smart aleck. The officer missed his cue to walk away.

            When the cops stop acting like condescending Nazi/Stalinist thugs to whom all civilians are the enemy, people will stop caring about filming them.

          2. Why, why, why not?

  13. Why did he not give his name? Hiibel vs. 6th judicial District of Nevada, was affirmed by SCOTUS. Not a 4th amendment violation, when asked one’s identity. (Though, it’s based on a Nevada law. Not sure if California has similar law for police stops. )

    1. First he did nothing wrong, so Hibel wouldn’t apply. (Cops gotta have reasonable suspicion that the suspect was involved in criminal activity.)
      And of course, according to Hibel, you can always plead the 5th and not give your name.
      Oh, and did I mention that he did nothing wrong.
      But police are quick studies and have begun rounding up cameras from everyone for any reason, cause, you know, they don’t want anything embarrassing — for example, illegal — coming out.

    2. “Why did he not give his name?”

      Because. bootlicking troll, he doesn’t have to.

      1. I agree with M.O. I know it’s his right to keep quiet and not answer the questions…and in many situations that’s probably the wise course of action. But he had to know that his response would be seen as antagonistic by the cop and would likely lead where it did.

        I wonder how it all would have played out if he had offered a minimal amount of information and politely let the cop know that he was aware of his rights to be taking pics where he was. I’m guessing he wanted it go play out exactly how it did.

        1. And if he had responded “my name is none of your business pig” what right would that have given the officer to proceed as he did? The guy was doing nothing illegal.

        2. There is no law stating one has to be cordial to a cop.

          1. You are missing the point. It’s not about what’s legal.

            If you want to put the story out there about cops harassing innocent civilians going about their own business, it doesn’t help when the videos keep showing the civilians being rude first. It does not help the narrative.

            Where are the videos of the civilians who respond politely? Let’s see those.

  14. Warren Christopher, the man with no law enforcement experience, whose commission was designed to propiciate violence prone black rioters after the Rodney King verdict? Problem officers are created by making alot of arrests. Professional criminals routinely make complaints against officers, especially criminals who use violence to resist arrest. Murder, rape, robbery are not libertarian values. Libertarians need to get away from the idea that cops only exist to interfer with their marijuana use. Crime is real in LA. It has lots of violent crime. And lots of violent criminals who don’t like being arrested. And, no, people don’t go to State prison or even the county lock-up for possession of minor amounts of marijuana.

    1. So, because crime is real in LA and ‘problem officers’ have a bad rep due to pro criminals abusing the complaint card the American constitution should be flushed down the pooper. Profound insight there, Mr. Clover.

    2. What does any of that have to do with harassing innocent people who want to video-record police activity on the streets?

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  16. There are a lot of cops that have a huge ego. Not all but a lot. I have run across them numerous times. If they ask for your ID and you respond why, they take that as a challenge to their all power authority. They could easily say because and then give an explanation.Instead you get “I said let me see your ID” followed by you will be arrested if you don”t comply. Same as when pulled over and they ask for your license if you ask a simple why was I pulled over before showing your license they have a fit. Why not just say this is why now show me your licensee.This makes the public have a negative image of them. If you want more corporation treat people right.

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