Photo by Shawn Nee / discarted (Used to show that photographs of patients and ambulances are not illegal)
Justin Kenward, photo editor of the Chaffey College student newspaper, The Breeze, is facing criminal charges (that will likely be dropped by a level-headed judge on October 18), after photographing a car accident victim near the school’s newsroom.
According to the Student Press Law Center, Kenward began photographing the victim as he was being loaded into the ambulance on a stretcher by emergency personel. Kenward claims that the victim did not have an issue with being photographed, and that the man (who was talking on his cell phone at the time) even smiled and waved at him. But fire personnel attending to the patient are saying the opposite, claiming that the man objected to being photographed and that Kenward was interfering with them.
“Firefighter medics reported that while they were attending to a person experiencing chest pain, a photographer began taking photographs of the patient despite the patient’s objections, and allegedly interfered with the care of the patient,” according to a press release from Chaffey College.
According to SPLC’s report, a paramedic then told Kenward he was not allowed to photograph the patient due to doctor-patient confidentially. So Kenward obliged and moved back.
Minutes later, campus cadets arrived on scene, and like fire personnel, told the photo editor that he could not photograph the incident. However, Kenward identified himself as press, which caused the cadets to walk away.
“I took that as a green light and continued shooting,” Kenward said.
However, at that point, another firefighter again told Kenward he could not take pictures.
He was about twenty feet away when a firefighter said no pictures were allowed. Kenward argued with the man, took down his name and went inside.
Putting morals aside (which is simply one man’s opinion versus another man’s opinion), photographing a victim inside of an ambulance, which still has its doors open, is not against the law, nor does it violate doctor-patient confidentially. And how can someone even argue that this does violate doctor-patient confidentiality when a doctor isn’t even present? Is it maybe because this paramedic was inventing a non-existent law based on their own morals, rather than following actual law? Possibly.
But if the paramedics’ claims are true, and the victim did object to being photographed, it doesn’t matter because the accident occurred in public where an expectation of privacy does not exist. Which means, anybody (including accident victims) can be photographed despite their objections. So it appears these paramedics, firefighters, and campus cadets need training regarding photographers’ rights and the First Amendment.
Seriously though, when are firefighters and police officers going to realize that they are not victim watchdogs in charge of censoring anybody trying to document an incident scene that involves injured people? That is not their job. Nor is it their job to threaten college reporters with expulsion if they do not kowtow to their unlawful demands, such as what one officer tried to get Kenward to do.
Shortly after, an emergency team member came in with a police officer. Kenward, the newspaper adviser and a Breeze reporter spent about an hour discussing the matter with the police. The officer wanted the images but the group refused. Kenward said the officer threatened to expel him from campus for two weeks if he did not hand over a copy of images.
Thankfully, the officer’s threats had no effect on Kenward who held strong to his position and did not hand over the photos.
“I knew he wasn’t able to actually expel me, that’s up to the school board,” Kenward said.
More important, law enforcement does not have the legal authority to demand the images either. Especially in California, which has very strict shield laws that protect journalists from the prying eyes and hands of cops. Greg Leslie, an attorney for Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explains:
“You cannot seize the work product — including notes and photographs — even if you have a search warrant,” Leslie said. “The proper route would be for them to subpoena the photos.”
Greg continues, bolstering the fact that law enforcement or firefighters can not prevent photographers (or anybody as a matter of fact) from documenting accident or crime scenes, including when victims are inside ambulances:
“You can always take pictures at a crime scene, but you can’t interfere,” Leslie said. “Even taking pictures inside an ambulance is not necessarily illegal.”
But despite all of that, the unknown officer did not relent and eventually returned hours later, charging Kenward with “interfering with a firefighter and disobeying an order from a firefighter.” Which, as we all know, are your standard “contempt of cop” charges that all cops use when somebody hasn’t violated any laws but stood up for their rights and didn’t acquiesce to their imperious tactics and empty threats.
“I wanted to scream,” Kenward said.
So do we.
Article via SPLC