Posts Tagged 'lawsuit'

ACLU Sues LA County Sheriff’s Department on Behalf of Photographers


ACLU of Southern California sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and several of its deputies Thursday alleging they harassed, detained and improperly searched photographers taking pictures legally in public places.

Photography Link Roundup

Photo by Robert Altman

•  If you’re in San Fran, you can spend an evening in July with photographer Robert Altman (which is really just an excuse to run one of my favorite photos). [Jazz Heritage Center]

•  Worlds collide in this cool collection of photos of notable figures in odd situations — think Nancy Reagan on Mr. T’s lap, or Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Ludacris at a basketball game. [Quora]

•  High tech birding, or 10 cool photos of birds taken with the iPhone. [Mashable]

•  The new Lomo camera takes its inspiration from … sardines? [CrunchGear]

•  A South Florida publication and the Society of Professional Journalists have banded together to sue the City of Fort Lauderdale for prohibiting photography around the Rock of Ages set. [Miami Herald]

ACLU May Sue MTA For Baltimore Incident

Photo by Christopher Fussell

UPDATE: MTA Chief Ralign T. Wells has come out against agency employees who have sought to prohibit photography, telling the Baltimore Sun, “We don’t have a policy restricting photography. The actions of some of these officers are not reflective of the agency stance.” He said he will work to settle with the ACLU before any lawsuit can be filed.

The Maryland ACLU may sue on behalf of Christopher Fussell, a train enthusiast, who was taking photos of a Baltimore train station and told to stop this past March. Fussell takes photos of trains and railroad stations all over the US — he takes about 15,000 to 20,000 a year — but it was the Charm City that gave him trouble. He was taking photos of Baltimore’s Cultural Center station when an employee ordered him to stop and threatened to call police.

As The Baltimore Sun reports:

The [ACLU] warned that unless the agency meets a series of conditions by Sept. 1, it will take the MTA to court — where it expects to win.

Civil libertarians and rights advocates say police have been given no new powers to curb photography since 9/11. In many cases, they say, police are making up laws and rules on the spot and  issuing orders they have no right to give.

Interestingly, the ACLU worked to settle a 2006 incident amicably, where one of their own staffers was told to stop taking photos by the MTA, but they say they’re not going that route this time. Staff Attorney David Rocah says they’ve been trying that for five years and it hasn’t brought about change.

Often it takes a big lawsuit to get people’s attention.

ACLU Bad, Newark Police Good

In a recent article on the Newark Star-Ledger site, George Berkin, a contributor to something called “NJ Voices,” writes on the case of Newark teen Khaliah Fitchette who was unlawfully detained in March 2010 for taping a medical emergency on a city bus with her cell phone. During the incident, Fitchette was handcuffed, her cell phone was seized and the video was deleted, and the police tried to charge her with obstruction of justice. Last week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court on her behalf.

Berkin is a big fan of the bible and Sarah Palin but not of abortion and evolution. So if you want to take a wild guess on where he’ll come down on the issue, go ahead. If you’re stumped, for Berkin, it all comes down to being thoughtful.

A thoughtful person would have realized, “Now I understand why the police, angered by my defiance expressed by my refusal to stop taping, would have handcuffed me. I certainly did not enjoy being handcuffed and being held in custody for several hours. But,” a thoughtful person would have concluded, “I certainly brought that unpleasantness upon myself.”

Fitchette wasn’t being thoughtful when her rights were violated, and she should just learn some thoughtfulness and not attempt to tape anything in public because it might hurt someone’s feelings, and if she is unlawfully detained and her constitutional rights are violated because of her thoughtless behavior, she should accept that and not participate in the ACLU’s vendetta against the Newark police department. (A police department, mind you, that has a well-earned reputation as one of the most corrupt in the nation.)

Here’s an interesting twist for Berkin, who hates government spending: Lawsuits like these cost taxpayers A LOT of money. And they are entirely avoidable.

Source: Newark Star-Ledger

Mass Mayor Says No to Funding Police Legal Fees

When politicians talk about cutting budgets it’s amazing that they go after things like teachers and firefighters. Wouldn’t it make more sense to cut the needless expenses brought on by agressively incompetent and/or abusive civil servants?

As the Eagle Tribune reports, the mayor of Lawrence, Mass., William Lantigua, has the right idea: He says the city will no longer pay the legal bills for police officers who are being sued for misconduct charges. Over the past three years, the city has paid $1.2 million defending police officers in civil cases. (Twenty new police officers could be hired for that money.)

Instead, Lantigua says he will hold to the police unions’ contract, which says the city only has to pay the $5,000 retainer for a patrolman and $7,500 for a superior officer. Lantigua says officers have two options when they are being sued — to use one of the three city attorneys or have their unions pay for the defense.

Police brutality cases are especially costly, and there six lawsuits going to trial in the next six months. Lawrence recently settled one case, paying the plaintiff $400,000. So you can imagine, at this pace, we’re talking about the city potentially paying out over $2 million this year.

This idea is especially relevant in the case of photographers’ rights too, because the courts almost always respect those rights. To wit: a Fox TV camera operator got $1.2 million from the City of Los Angeles, Antonio Musumeci recently got an undisclosed settlement from the federal government, and infamous Amtrak photographer Duane Kerzic reportedly got a five-figure sum from the national railroad.

Really, this is a no-brainer. Spending millions on these lawsuits is just egregious waste. And in many, many cases it is entirely preventable. Some police officers don’t seem to understand the severity of abusing their authority because there are no personal repercussions. If the city foots the bill, and they get a new job, where is the disincentive?

Shoot Away, Federal Gov Says

As part of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against the federal government stemming from the Antonio Musumeci incident, they were given the above directive. It states that photographers are allowed to photograph federal buildings nationwide, and the NYCLU is encouraging photographers to carry it with them in the event they come across a problem.

As Lens reports:

The three-page bulletin reminds officers, agents and employees that, “absent reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” they “must allow individuals to photograph the exterior of federally owned or leased facilities from publicly accessible spaces” like streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas. Even when there seems to be reason to intercede and conduct a “field interview,” the directive says:

Officers should not seize the camera or its contents, and must be cautious not to give such ‘orders’ to a photographer to erase the contents of a camera, as this constitutes a seizure or detention.

You can get your copy here.

Source: Lens/New York Times

UPDATE: There have been comments on the web stating you have to provide personal information or log into Facebook in order to download the federal directive.  We haven’t had time to look into the matter, but if the claims are true, that is unacceptable.  Which, is why we’re providing the directive here for you to download as much as you want free of Big Brother’s prying eyes.

IL Takes Several Steps Back, Won’t Protect Recording Police

People in Illinois are looking at fifteen years if they audio-record police activity. Or should I say “still looking”? Because the Illinois Eavesdropping Act makes recording someone in public without their consent a felony. Last year the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the law, but a few weeks ago Federal Judge Suzanne Conlon dismissed it, saying there is no First Amendment protections there.  

Although law-enforcement officials can legally record civilians in private or public, audio-recording a law-enforcement officer, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney, attorney general, assistant attorney general or judge in the performance of his or her duties is a Class 1 felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

As Reason magazine’s Radley Balko writes, unfortunately, “the law is used almost exclusively against people who attempt to record on-duty police officers.”

While absurd, this makes some sort of sense because allowing citizens to record police activity would likely cause all kinds of grief for that very jackbooted state that is known to be very corrupt.

Source: New York Times

ACLU Takes on DC Police in Photog Harassment Case

Photograph by Jerome Vorus

This past summer, photographer Jerome Vorus was harassed and detained by DC police when he tried to take photos of a traffic stop in Georgetown. The incident touched off a mini firestorm, with mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post and NBC crying foul. (It always helps when these things happen in a major media hub.) People were rightfully alarmed at the cops’ arrogance (telling him it was illegal to take photos of the police) and their violation of Vorus’ rights.

In a letter to DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, a lawyer from ACLU’s DC chapter demands the police acknowledge the incident in the form of a settlement and an apology – or  a lawsuit will follow. If this doesn’t make police departments sit up and take notice, it should.

Times are changing, and it’s not fun and games and unlimited power anymore. The ACLU is very proactive on the photographers’ rights issue, and with photographer Antonio Musumeci’s recent settlement with the federal government, they have a pretty good track record of winning. Sometimes the only way you can change institutional behavior, or implement “corrective training” as the ACLU calls it, is with a costly lawsuit. Too bad it’s the taxpayers who will pay for these public servants’ ignorance.

Filming Chicago Police OK, Audio Not

NPR did a piece this morning on Chicago artist Chris Drew, who’s made it his mission to make sure the First Amendment works. What started as an act of civil disobedience — Drew is a crusader for free speech and wanted to test laws regarding where artists can sell their work — turned into a felony charge for illegal eavesdropping. It turns out he had recorded his arrest and in Illinois it’s illegal to record conversations without consent of all parties.

The Chicago police union claims, if you can believe this, that recordings like these could inhibit officers from doing their jobs. Or…if they do their jobs professionally and competently, if they happen to be recorded, an audio recording would make absolutely. No. Difference.

“The general theme that drifts through these cases is very clear,” [Illinois ACLU lawyer Harvey] Grossman says. “Law enforcement, in these instances, is rebelling and is refusing to allow public scrutiny of their behavior. And they are using the eavesdropping statute as a weapon against civilians.”

On August 18, the Illinois ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging this law.

Story from NPR

Oakland Schools District Pays Photog

Do you remember Oakland Schools Police Chief Art Michel who went ballistic on Oakland Tribune news photographer Jane Tyska in 2008? How could you forget.

The Oakland Unified School District just settled a lawsuit and paid Tyksa $99,000 for her troubles. Yep, your tax dollars at work, Oakland. Aren’t you glad when your city officials mess up you pay for it?

From Tyksa’s statement:

“I’m very happy that the OUSD has taken responsibility for the actions of its former police chief. If it wasn’t for the video I shot, this abuse of power would never have come to light. It’s now illegal in a dozen states to record police activity, and this case is an excellent example of why that right needs to be protected. One of the reasons people often fear cameras is because they tell the truth.”
(Meanwhile Michel retired in 2009 and no doubt takes in a sweet, sweet pension. No consequences, no repercussions, no problem.)

Article from Crime Scene/

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