Respect Mah Authoritah: Delete the Photo or Go to Jail
Brendan Loy briefs us on a relatively new phenomenon: the anti-photography police:
...a Tri-Cities area man ended up behind bars after snapping a shot of a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop.
The cell phone photographer says the arrest was intimidation, but the deputy says he feared for his life.
“Here’s a guy who takes me out of the car and arrests me in front of my kids. For what? To take a picture of a police officer?” said Scott Conover.
A Johnson County sheriff’s deputy arrested Scott Conover for unlawful photography.
“He says you took a picture of me. It’s illegal to take a picture of a law enforcement officer,” said Conover.
Conover took a picture of a sheriff’s deputy on the side of the road on a traffic stop. Conover was stunned by the charge.
“This is a public highway,” said Conover.
And it was not a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy as Tennessee code states. The deputy also asked Conover to delete the picture three times.
“He said if you don’t give it to me, you’re going to jail,” said Conover.
Under the advice of the Johnson County attorney, the sheriff would not comment and the arresting deputy said he didn’t want to incriminate himself by talking to us.
In an affidavit, the deputy said he saw something black with a red light which he thought was a threat. Conover was also arrested for pointing a laser at a law enforcement officer.
“At no time did I have a laser. I had an iPhone,” said Conover.
When you take a picture in the dark with Conover’s Apple iPhone, there is no flash or any light that comes from the phone that could be mistaken for a laser.
In a witness statement by a Mountain City officer, it says the deputy asked about the picture rather than looking for a laser.
“If you arrested me, wouldn’t you take the laser? If you arrested me, wouldn’t you take the camera?” said Conover.
He expects these charges to be dismissed.
“This guy maliciously arrested me, charging me with phony charges that he don’t even understand himself,” Conover said...
Brendan Loy points out that:
...The officer claims he initially thought the man's camera -- an iPhone, as it happens -- was a laser pointer, which is ridiculous on its face (as the article notes, "there is no flash or any light that comes from the phone that could be mistaken for a laser"), and in any event cannot explain the officer's demand that the man delete the photos, nor the blatant, illegal abuse of power entailed by accompanying that demand with a threat of arrest.
What makes this case even more galling is that, in most cases, the officer's bullying tactic would work: I imagine that 90% of people would accede to the cop's unlawful, unjustified, and possibly unconstitutional demand, rather than fight it. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if his wife and kids, and maybe even he himself, are (or were) sitting there thinking, "Why didn't you just delete the stinkin' photo?" I can easily imagine myself in the same situation, with Becky saying something similar. After all, it's such a small thing, isn't it? Just delete the silly photo, and all your troubles will go away!
But it isn't a small thing! Not at all! It's a matter of high principle in a nation of laws. Police officers are supposed to enforce the laws, not invent them to persecute people they're annoyed with. And they certainly aren't supposed to arrest people -- on trumped-up charges like "disorderly conduct," natch -- for refusing to obey the officers' invented "laws."
As one local blogger puts it, "Refusing to delete pictures taken from a public area isn’t disorderly. It’s asserting one’s rights." Indeed. (I've pointed out before that charges like "disorderly conduct" and "disturbing the peace" are often used as catch-alls to punish legal, and in many cases constitutionally protected, activities. This is a classic example of that.)
The above-quoted local blogger, "DeMarCaTionVille," goes on:
What happened seems clear to me: Conover annoyed the cop by taking his picture. When Conover refused to delete them, the cop got angry and arrested him. (After all, the photos might have been taken with the intention of policing the police - and how dare a mere mortal citizen do this?) After the arrest, the officer scrambled to find some law, any law which would back up his actions.
Conover heads to court on August 6th - and I imagine the charges will be dismissed. The department surely knows all Hell will break loose if they’re not - but is this good enough?
Absolutely not. If this officer is not fired, or at the very least severely disciplined (and required to go through some sort of citizens'-rights training), it's an absolute, intolerable outrage. There is no excuse -- none -- for officers of the law to behave in this sort of illegal, bullying, rights-trampling fashion. As a free society, we simply cannot tolerate it.
It's not just about the ability for citizens to take pictures of police officers in public places (though that's important too; see: King, Rodney). It's about the officer's behavior -- specifically his attempt to bully this man into compliance with an illegal demand, using his power as an officer of the law in the service of his personal pique, at the expense of the citizenry that he is supposed to "serve and protect." It is absolutely, totally and completely unacceptable for police officers to use the authority conferred by their badges to violate people's rights in this manner, and society needs to send that message loud and clear.
Moreover, because citizens will usually back down, allowing the police to get away with this sort of thing in most cases, it is essential that these misdeeds not go unpunished when the perp -- meaning the police officer, of course -- actually gets caught. As InstaPundit says, "Examples need to be made."
Got your Flip video cam yet?