Photojournalist Unlawfully Detained by LA County Sheriffs

From YouTube:

This is what happens when you try to take photos from the street of L.A. County Jail. The six deputies let me go only after I was searched and run through their computer system. Was told by the deputies that the jail area is private property, and there were national security concerns. For the most part, they were professional and somewhat polite during the stop. Still it seemed highly unnecessary for 6 deputies to stop me for taking images from the sidewalk. The images of the jailhouse building are for use in an upcoming story for the L.A. Weekly.

There’s not much to see in this video showing Los Angeles County Sheriffs unlawfully detaining photojournalist Ted Soqui for taking pictures from a public sidewalk of the L.A. County Jail (a constitutionally protected activity) since the cops prevented him from recording the encounter—actions that should raise serious credibility issues on the part of the officers because if the cops were acting in a legal manner then they shouldn’t be concerned about being videotaped.  Like cops say, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.  So I’m curious to know why these officers moved Ted’s camera as far away as possible and prevented their conversation from being recorded.

Is it because Ted’s detainment was unlawful and the cops had no legal grounds for stopping him?  Is it because the officers didn’t want their questionable or illegal behavior documented?  Or is it because they didn’t want themselves on YouTube in another video that shows LA County Sheriffs unlawfully detaining another photographer for performing a constitutionally protected act?  We’ll never know.

But there are a few things to remember.

I want to focus on a couple of  things that you can see in this video that will potentially help you when dealing with cops who may not be mindful of your First Amendment rights.

First, there’s lawful orders and then there are favors (which I discussed in an earlier post).


At the beginning of the video the cop asks Ted to do him “a favor” and to step over to the vehicle. (At this point everybody should ask if they’re being detained.)  If the officer says no, then you are free to go and you should leave since his favor request was obviously not a lawful order but rather a common technique used by cops to get you to comply to their unlawful demands.  In instances like this (which are very common), the cops are making it seem like you have to follow their request when you actually do not.

Moreover, if you do hear these words come from the officer’s mouth while taking pictures on a public sidewalk and you are not being detained, you should immediately ask the officer if the request is a lawful order.  For example, let’s say you’re photographing a police incident from a public sidewalk that is still open to everybody else who is not wielding a camera, but you’ve been told to stop taking pictures and to leave the area.  If the cop says his favor request is a lawful order, make sure you have a camera rolling to record this unlawful demand so you can file a complaint at a later date.


At this point, it’s up to you to decide what to do.  Should you give up your rights and comply to the “do me a favor” request? Or say no, stand up for your Constitutional rights and continue about your business?  Defying the officer’s request could possibly lead to an illegal detainment and also an unlawful arrest.  That’s up to you.

During the video, the cop also asked Ted if it would be okay to search him.  This is not a lawful order either, nor a request that you must follow.  The officer is simply asking you to give him permission (because at this point he has absolutely no legal authority to do so).  Tell the officer no, and ask if you’re being detained.  Again, if he says you’re not being detained, then leave.

This video is instructive for exposing some of the tricks cops will use to unlawfully detain you, even though law enforcement and their legal teams could argue that you weren’t actually detained but instead participated in a consensual conversation and happily gave up your rights.  The legal team defending the police could easily argue that you could have walked away, but didn’t, and willfully submitted to the officer’s favor requests.

Finally, this video reveals that cops are coming up with new ways of preventing people from recording their encounters with police.  In this case, the cops took Ted’s camera and placed it on the back of the patrol unit, far away from them, and made sure it was pointed in the opposite direction — thus, preventing it from obtaining any damning evidence of Ted’s detainment.
If this is the way police are going to behave from now on and not hold themselves accountable to the Constitution and the law, then it’s important that we adapt too and find new ways to be able to record what happens to us and protect our rights.

2 Responses to “Photojournalist Unlawfully Detained by LA County Sheriffs”

  1. 1 Jail Nation July 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I am glad to see that the police officer asked questions and stopped someone who is taking photos of a mass transit location. Granted, it is a fine line between our rights as individuals and the need to give up rights for the protection of our society.

    • 2 discarted July 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm

      You do realize this LA Weekly photojournalist was on a public sidewalk photographing the courthouse for a story. He was not photographing mass transit locations even though that would be completely legal too.

      Just wait for the day when you’re unlawfully detained for talking on your cellphone outside a courthouse since cellphones have been used in terrorist attacks and photography hasn’t.

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