[UPDATED with Long Beach Journo's Take:] ACLU Sues Sheriff's Deputies for Hassling LA and Long Beach Photographers Under Anti-Terror Policy
|Greggory Moore shares with the media his brushes with sheriff's deputies.|
As we reported yesterday, Moore is one of three plaintiffs is a federal suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU/SC) against the County of Los Angeles and individual Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) deputies for illegally detaining and searching photographers.
Here, in chronological order, are Moore's stories:
- The incident where Moore was surrounded by eight LASD deputies on a public sidewalk as he was snapping photos for a story on Distracted Driving Awareness Month;
- Coverage of the National Press Photographers' Association's letter to LA County Sheriff Lee Baca and Baca's letter in response where the sheriff, according to Moore, "misreports the incident" despite claiming to have "thoroughly investigated it."
speaks with the commander of the Long Beach Courthouse and hears "some
pretty outrageous things about police policy and training when
confronted with 'potential terrorist' activity, like photographing a
Moore tells the Weekly that last link featuring the unit commander's discussion of the officer training "really points to the crux of the lawsuit."
In August, we told you about Moore's interview with Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who defended his officers detaining Moore's colleague for snapping photos in the port area because he could have been a terrorist identifying future targets.
It happened to Quentin again around 1:20 a.m. on Jan. 21 when the photographer, who was trying to catch the "brilliantly lit" refineries in south Los Angeles, was confronted, frisked and placed in the back of a deputy's car for 45 minutes before being released.
The third plaintiff is Shawn Nee, who was photographing turnstiles in the Los Angeles Metro station when he was detained and searched by a deputy. The encounter, which was captured on YouTube, included the deputy asking the shooter if he planned to sell the photos to al-Qaeda and threatening to put his name on the FBI's "hit list."
The same three photographers have been confronted a total of six times by deputies, according to the ACLU/SC, which cites several other cases involving photographers who are not plaintiffs in the case. Among them is freelance photographer Ted Soqui, who was detained by six deputies after shooting exteriors of the LA County Men's Central Jail and a nearby bail bond business for an LA Weekly story on deputies abusing jail inmates. When Soqui refused to disclose the nature of the story he was working on, other than to say it was for a print newspaper, a deputy with his hand on his gun is alleged to have moved on the photographer.
"It's preposterous," Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the ACLU/SC, tells the Weekly about the Soqui encounter, and he feels the same about the others given the fact that there are First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and billions of photographs being uploaded yearly via social networking.
"It is so commonplace," the attorney says of people snapping photos. "Yet, the simple act of taking a picture is considered suspicious activity."
The lawsuit asks the federal court to order the LA Sheriff's Department to stop detaining people solely based on the fact that they are taking photographs as well as to stop ordering people not to take photographs in public areas where photography is not prohibited. The action also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
The ACLU/SC claims the policy sheriff's deputies are operating under originated with the Los Angeles Police Department and has since become a model for cop shops across the nation. Officers are encouraged to fill out a "suspicious activity report" if any of 48 behaviors are witnessed on patrol beats, Bibring explains. While the majority of those behaviors deserve to raise alarm bells--such as stockpiling weapons--a handful are for things people who are not trying to blow up America do every day, like snapping pictures in their communities. "It's ludicrous," Bibring says.
"Photography is not a crime," he said. "It's protected First Amendment expression. Sheriff's deputies violate the Constitution's core protections when they detain and search people who are doing nothing wrong. To single them out for such treatment while they're pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong."
Seconding that emotion is Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA).
"Photographers in Los Angeles and nationwide are increasingly subject to harassment by police officers," Osterreicher says in a statement distributed by the ACLU/SC. "Safety and security concerns should not be used as a pretext to chill free speech and expression or to impede the ability to gather news."
Moore is not a professional photographer, but journalists often snap photos for stories and especially blog posts they write. Moore was working on a piece about Distracted Driving Awareness Month the afternoon of June 2 when he decided to step outside his apartment and shoot motorists stopped at a red light at the Ocean Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue intersection.