DEA Harasses Storm Photographer – and His Wife


Photo by Michael Petty

Michael Petty likes to shoot thunderstorms and lightning. On the evening of August 31, Petty was taking photos in a church parking lot of a storm that was gathering over Omaha, Nebraska. After taking a few sequence shots, he went home.

The next day he got a call at work from the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation asking him to come to their offices. He works for a casino in Iowa, so a call from the DCI wasn’t unusual; he did deal with them professionally. But the fact that they asked him to come in was.

A couple DEA agents at the DCI office started off asking him where he was on the night of August 31. He was dumbfounded, he says, and told them he was taking photos of clouds. They replied that DEA offices were over the hill and he was taking photos in that direction — and they wanted to see his photos. He told them he had photos up on Flickr and Photobucket and they asked for his password, which he gave them. (Which the agent was not able to access because of his own computer skills.)

The DEA released Petty a short time later, but not before explaining how they’d tracked him down: they traced his license plate number, staked out his house, talked to a neighbor to find out where his wife worked, visited his wife at work, and, finally, found out where Petty worked.

To recap (in case you haven’t fully digested the preposterousness yet): Federal agents harassed a man’s wife at her workplace so they could get to the bottom of some super sensitive photos…of CLOUDS.

When Petty got home, he did some research to figure out what he had done wrong. He realized he hadn’t done anything:

I then sent an e-mail to my congressman demanding a full apology from the head of the DEA.  I did get a call from an aid and I had to explain how my rights were trampled upon.   Then I got a follow-up letter from my congressman but I have not received an apology as of yet.

Are Iowa DEA agents just hankering to investigate someone, something, anything?! You have to wonder if these guys just don’t have anything better to do?

As we’ve noted countless times, these “cases” could be approached with more common sense and deliberation. Like, perhaps before going all post-9/11 righteous on an innocent photographer, authorities could ask themselves a few questions. Like, what are the odds a terrorist is casing the Omaha DEA building? From a church parking lot beyond a hill, no less? Do we need to pay his wife a visit at work, or could we just call him on the phone?

It’s also important to note that authorities take full advantage of people who don’t know their rights. In fact, they’re counting on it. An uninformed citizenry is a complacent citizenry.

If you would like to see Petty’s highly suspicious photos (at your own risk of course!), go here (and see more of his storm work here).

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5 Responses to “DEA Harasses Storm Photographer – and His Wife”


  1. 1 Omar Modesto October 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I was once stopped for attempting to photograph some small flag ornaments right outside the U.S. embassy here. As I was leaving, a man called to me and asked me what I was doing. Apparently, I needed permission just to capture ornaments. He made me show him every photo in the camera, and so I did (good thing it wasn’t film). No ornaments. Then, he led me to a place right outside the gate where they wrote down my name and asked for my ID card, which I did not have, and I was finally allowed to be on my way. Went straight home, a bit terrified.
    It happened to be a fourth of July. I’d been photographing my surroundings that day and I thought the ornaments would make a nice shot.
    Clouds, ornaments. No matter what it is, make sure that what you photograph is not near some U.S. office. You could become a person of interest!

    • 2 Pete Stavrakoglou October 6, 2010 at 4:36 pm

      I take it that the “here” where the embassy is isn’t in the USA? In the USA, a person has no authority to force you to show your photos. Without a court order, you do not have to show anyone, including police, the photos you have taken. Many of the people who are enforcing the laws, such as police, are woefully ignorant of the very laws they are charged with enforcing. For example, it is completely legal to take photos in the New York City subways but transit police stil stop people from doing it.

      • 3 Omar Modesto October 6, 2010 at 10:37 pm

        Oh, sorry about that. The “here” of which I speak of is in the Dominican Republic. I just went along with it –the showing of the photos and providing the information– to avoid further trouble, as I find it best to avoid messing with authorities of any kind (our own authorities aren’t so great, either).

      • 4 Omar Modesto October 6, 2010 at 10:49 pm

        (Yes, I wrote “of which I speak of”, call the cops!)


  1. 1 What Would You Do? | Truth and Justice For All Trackback on September 18, 2010 at 8:08 am

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