Wednesday, November 2, 2011


MAYBE THE ZOMBIES ATE THEM: We've devoted a slew of bits to the case of Big Island blogger Damon Tucker's beating and arrest- allegedly at the hands of the Hawai`i County Police Department (HiPD)- for, as Tucker claims, photographing a melee outside a Pahoa bar last August after being told to stop doing so.

But even though it appears that Tucker was well within his rights to take photos in a public place, the charges of obstructing police operations is going forward, despite the fact that it appears from the video that he was across the street from all the "action."

The statement from the HiPD that "(t)he Hawaii Police Department recognizes that the media and the public have every right to photograph police activity in a public place from a safe distance" indicates that they do know that Photography Is Not a Crime, as the national clearinghouse website of the same name states.

But apparently that is not the case in Los Angeles where the LA Sheriff’s Department is being sued by the ACLU of Southern California "alleging they harassed, detained and improperly searched photographers taking pictures legally in public places," according to the LA Times.

The article states that:

The federal lawsuit alleges the Sheriff's Department and deputies "have repeatedly" subjected photographers "to detention, search and interrogation simply because they took pictures" from public streets of places such as Metro turnstiles, oil refineries or near a Long Beach courthouse.

"Photography is not a crime. It's protected 1st Amendment expression," said Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "It violates the Constitution's core protections for sheriff’s deputies to detain and search people who are doing nothing wrong. To single them out for such treatment while they’re pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong."

Bibring said the policy and practices of the Sheriff's Department reflect a widespread misuse of "suspicious activity reporting" under the auspices of Homeland Security and counterterrorism. Similar suits have been filed in several other states.

Note that it's alleged that it's not isolated incidents but a policy of the department that is the subject of the suit.

The problem is that it's apparent in our reading of the lawsuit itself that either the cops are complete imbeciles who can't tell real terrorism threats from things like photographing innocuous locations or else they are using the law to harass people who won't kow-tow to abuse of their authority.

We suspect the latter.

Don't believe it? Here's more from the same lawsuit:

In another incident, deputies detained and searched Shane Quentin, a photographer with a master's in fine arts from UC Irvine while he was taking pictures of brilliantly lighted refineries in South Los Angeles on Jan. 21. Deputies frisked Quentin and placed him in the back of a police cruiser for about 45 minutes before releasing him. Two years before, Quentin had been ordered twice by deputies to stop taking photos of the refineries, according to the suit.

With the exception of a few bad actors, we on the neighbor island get accustomed to encountering officers who are genurinely trying to protect and serve and take seriously their responsibility to refrain from trampling on citizens' rights in trying to put away the bad guys.

But as our population grows, we're forced more and more to recruit new officers from the same mainland climes where these kinds of attitudes lead to having a populace that is alienated from the paramilitary operation which is supposed to keep them safe without making for an "us" vs. them" paradigm.

We're not sure what's going on inside the HiPD as far as Tucker's obstruction case goes. We sure hope that they are considering abandoning Tucker's prosecution and even repremanding the officers and instituting training on how to handle such situations without escalating them into news-worthy events.

But as Tucker waits for the resolution of the criminal charges and readies his civil suit, this federal lawsuit is going to be one to watch, not just for us but for HiPD as they wrestle with their own in a department that has had more than its share of bad actors over the years.

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